Unknown Location - January 20, 2038 01:13 UTC

As Gabrielle walked into the war room, she linked as her eyes adjusted to the dim light. Computers filled the room, people watching and occasionally typing away. The overhead lights were turned down for this part of the shift since it would be late evening for the workers. When the next shift started, the lights would cycle brighter and gradually dim during the four hour shift.

Side of building, glass, greenish tint under cloudy sky

After she blinked, the room came into focus and she glanced around at systems monitoring their progress around the world. The scene seemed familiar for some reason and she realized it seemed like pictures of mission central for the rocket launches of the 60’s. Her group was also changing history but in a way that would benefit all of the Earth, not just humans.

She stood in the back, observing, watching as changes were made on networks and systems  While watching, she started walking, continuing to observe and offer encouragement, One person rerouted traffic in the Middle East so the network wouldn’t respond, another person queued up the 2038 bug software patches to a computer appearing on a network in Australia. The main screen in the center of the room still showed that most of the world networks and infrastructure were dark, but there were some bright spots appearing. There was a glow up by Boston and others in London, Paris, Israel, San Jose, and China. Her eyes scanned the data as the map continued to update and noticed the glows looked slightly brighter since she had walked in. She wasn’t surprised, which is why there was a tactical meeting scheduled for 01:30 to start the next phase of the plan. As the main screen updated, another bright spot appearing, she rocked back and forth on her heels, deep in thought. When she noticed the time, 01:27, she quietly walked back to the door and left.  AS the door closed behind her, she saw Daniel walking away from her to the conference room. Hurriedly she moved towards him so she catch up and talk before they entered the meeting.

“Hey boss lady, how is it going? I heard that some of the tech sites are starting to light up. Is that why we’re having a meeting?”

“Good observation Number One, yes, some of the techies are figuring things out which means it’s only a matter of time before they get things fixed. So it’s time for the next phase.”

“Operation loose lips, is it,” he said, grinning at her.

“No, no code name, just the next phase. Daniel, this is important, not a game or simulation. It’s important and we need to show respect or we’re no better than what we are trying to fix. ” She walked faster, angry about the joke and angry with herself for blowing up.

Daniel walked faster to catch up with, the smile no longer on his face. “Woah, I get it, just trying some humor, I’m sorry. You’re right, this is serious business.”

She slowed down again, letting him catch up with her. “It is serious business, I don’t want to forget that.” Stopping at the conference room door she looked at him as he also stopped. He looked at her gaze, then looked back down after a few seconds. “However, I understand the need to relieve stress. Just, be careful with your jokes, okay?”

“I understand, I’ll be careful. It is hard to believe we’ve made it this far and it’s not going to get any easier. Are you ready for the meeting?”

After a deep breath she said,  “Yes, I’m ready, I’ve been ready for the last twenty years. Let’s do this.” She opened the door and walked in where the team leaders were sitting. Daniel followed her in and went to sit on her right side at the circular table. The team leaders were all seated, waiting for Gabrielle to start the meeting.

“Good evening everyone, as scheduled, we are here to start implementation of the next phase of our plan. We had planned out several scenarios, based on current data, we will be implementing our response to tech activation. In order to confirm this, I want to hear reports all of you. While I’ve been monitoring the situation, your reports will make sure I’m aware of important issues before we act. Infrastructure, report.”

Spiral notebook with pen and pencil lying on 3-hole paper

A young man shuffled papers in front of him, glancing through them before looking up to Gabrielle, and cleared his throat before speaking. “Current reports show that 98% of the electrical grid is shut down. This includes renewable and non-renewable energy sources. This is a decrease from 99.5% reported within the first hour after the 2038 bug started. We are monitoring activity in Germany, United States, China and France who have successfully restored some power sources. Progress is still slow, but activity level is increasing and a one to two percent recovery of infrastructure is expected over the next week, with an increase to five to ten percent within the next ten days, based on current trends. As repairs are made, rate of recovery may accelerate, we estimate that 95% recovery could occur within one to four months. Other infrastructure, such as water supplies, heating, and sewage processing show similar repairs and recovery rates.”

“Thank you Jeff. Internet and computers, report.”

An older woman glanced at a smart phone in front of her, swiping across as she gave her report to the group. “Currently 98.9% of the internet is down, the portions that are up are within top secret government installations in all countries. We estimate that 96.3% to 98.4% of the computers are down. Computers include desktop, tablet, smart phone, vehicle ECUs, dedicated and custom systems for factories and other industrial uses, and all of the other devices with embedded firmware. We have not observed any repairs of major internet nodes and the 98.9% has stayed consistent since the bug activated. Our servers are setup to feed the updated bug into any internet routers or servers that do start up so that they shut down. So far we have been successful.

"There are repairs occurring on computers, as they connect to the internet, the updated bug is routed to them but activation is not always successful. We theorize that many of the computers that are working are older ones or have different installations of the trusted network hardware and software that detect and stop the original bug and the updated version. My team of developers is monitoring and strategizing on updates for the bug to work around these items.”

“Thank you Mariah. Communications, report,” Gabrielle said while looking at the next young man.

He looked up at Gabrielle, gazing at her for a moment before he started his report. “Um, Ma’am, sorry about that, was thinking about the latest reports. There is a lot going on in the communications area. Larger cities and towns are creating communications networks using a combination of ham radios, couriers on bicycles and couriers running to locations. Other methods are also being explored, such as carrier pigeon or other trained animals. Most communications between cities is out, the only activity we have observed has been with the military and in short bursts using internet or radio communications. Cities are establishing communications , based on protocols and lessons learned from the 20’s cyberwars. As the communication networks are established, our agents are in place or stepping forward to be part of the network moving forward.

My team estimates that a basic communication structure within countries will be established over the next two to three weeks. Communications for countries will take longer but we expect it will take no longer than four to six weeks for worldwide communication to be re-established.”

“Excellent Gerald, your team will be a key component for the next phase. Finally, from transportation, what is your report?”

“Ma’am, as noted by communications, bicycles are in use and some runners in the warmer climates. We have seen indications that governments have tried to activate their backup stock of vehicles but have not been successful. There are signs that some countries, like the US and Germany, are starting to go to their secondary transportation set and investigate methods for food transportation. With the increase in local farms around cities, it is estimated that horses, oxen and other animals will be used to fulfill transportation requirements on a regional, than a national level. With the localization efforts of the 20’s, most regions will be able to restore initial food transport within a matter of weeks, before current city supplies run out completely. Complete transportation for food and other supplies could be reestablished within one to two months. Based on the current trends for planning, it appears that the cities will be sending out notices to people to conserve on food in anticipation of restored supplies within one to two months.” The young woman, looking like a teenager was sitting up straight, her hands moving back and forth over her notebook as she spoke. Occasionally she looked up at Gabrielle but most of the time she looked at the notebook.

“Connie, thank you for your report. Based on this information and my observations, it appears that we are on target for the next phase. As all of you reported, repairs are starting and if nothing happens, local and national government could restore basic functionality within a few months and full functionality within the year. There will be some casualties as a result, but not enough to affect the overall resource usage.”

She stopped, steeled herself and said, “If we do not act, normal service will be restored and what we’ve done will only be a blip in the history books while people continue consuming. We have joined together to stop this, so we must start the next phase. Communications, are you prepared to start the disinformation and provocation campaigns?”

“Yes ma’am, our agents had their play books delivered weeks ago, they have their scripts ready to enact. Depending on location, our agents will spread rumors about a selected group causing the bug and the shortages. They will also listen for news and work to amplify negative information while diverting positive information about the group. As an example, in San Jose our agents will target technical workers who have been seen as disruptors of peaceful society. We plan to use the negative views and amplify them with rumors of the 2038 bug being caused by software developers. Information about the cyber corps for the Army will be downplayed unless it is spread that the Army is trying a coup to take over the government.

Other rumors will also be circulated, we expect that within 24 hours the campaign will build on its own. Rumors will include shortages of food, looting occurring by the identified minority group for that region, an attack by another country, and other messages intended to divide groups and prevent repairs in the identified areas.

In addition, we have operators monitoring the ham radio functions and preparing to corrupt messages in order to prevent organization of communities beyond a city level. We anticipate that this will lengthen the amount of time required to find a fix for the 2038 bug.

“Good, transportation, are you ready to disable equipment if groups are successful at restoring functionality?”

“Ma’am, our agents are ready and able to prevent transport outside of the cities. We will support the policy of isolation.”

“Internet and infrastructure teams, are you ready? Communications will coordinate with all of you in order to provide rumors for blame when destruction of equipment occurs.”

“Yes ma’am,” both of them answered at the same time.

Gabrielle nodded at each of the team leads who looked at her solemnly. “I could make a speech but it won’t change anything. Leads, prepare your teams and start the next phase at 02:30 UTC. We will meet again tomorrow at this same time in order to report on progress and evaluate our next move.”

Picture of laptop monitor showing Word file

The leads all stood up and walked out of the room. As they did, Gabrielle got the shakes as she thought about what was happening. Daniel had stood up and started walking towards her, but she held up her hands to stop him.

“No, I’ve got this, just have a moment of nerves. This phase will be hard, this is when people can start to die.”

He stood looking at her, his face sad as she stood looking back at him. “I know it’s hard but we both know it’s the right thing to do.”

“Yes it is, but doing the right thing isn’t always easy.” She looked up at the clock on the wall that showed 01:47. “I’m hungry, let’s go get something to eat so we can sit and watch the leads start the next phase.”

“Sounds like a good idea, the next few days are going to be busy. I have a feeling we are going to need to tweak things as we go.” He started walking to the door while Gabrielle walked with him.

“I agree, we can talk about some of the possibilities over dinner.” As they walked out of the room, the clock ticked over to 01:48. A few minutes later, when the clock displayed 01:58, the lights in the room automatically turned off.

Photos by J.T. Harpster