Jake sat at the desk, staring at his monitor. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the clock change to 3:10:00 UTC/19:10 PST, but most of his attention was on the status software. He was watching the production servers for QZ-Bit, a web/app hosting company, to make sure the patches worked in fixing the 2038 bug. Mike and he had done extensive testing on development machines, the roll out to production had gone smoothly, but a bug could still crop up in the production system when the timer rolled over. Software had come a long way from the wild days of the teens, when security was a second rate concern and the only focus was on releasing early and often. After Cyberwar I and II in the 20's, security and stability was now a primary concern of software development. The greed fueled speculation of the ought's and teens seemed like a bad memory in the 30's. Jake brought his thoughts back to the present, no use in thinking over things that happened when he was a kid. Or his experiences during Cyberwar II. He pushed those memories away and watched the monitoring software.
Jake looked over at Mike, who was also keeping an eye on the servers, using a different set of software. There were four other software engineers, in two other locations, tracking the countdown, ready to switch to other systems if the patches failed on one or more of the servers for some reason. God help them if they all failed, they might be here all night working on the servers if that happened. They were small fry compared to the monitors in place for utilities, he could only imagine the teams they had and the testing they had done. At least for their project they had customer service to handle the phones and complaints if the worst happened. "Hey Mike, got any plans for the evening, after we get done here? I'm ready for a break."
"I hear ya Jake, I'm ready to get out of this place. Eight hour days are killers, I don't know how our parents and grandparents made it."
"Yeah, a lot tougher than us, that's for sure. Then the bros doing 10-12 hour days, 6-7 days a week, man! No wonder they had the Cyberwars, people must have been crazy from the lack of sleep," Jake said. "Glad when we get back on our regular shifts, 4 days, 6 hours."
"Definitely, I've got a project I want to finish up, a new gadget for the virtual reality gear that came out last year."
The clock continued to change numbers, the virtual screen hovering just above the desktop to Jake's right. His hand hovered over his keyboard, and seconds transformed into the next number, moving closer to 3:14:07 UTC.
"3:13:06 over here, do you check?" Jake asked.
"Check, 3:13:10 and counting," Mike replied.
After a pause, Jake said, "3:13:37, stop, verbal confirmation, final 30 seconds." Jake caught Mike's nod as they both prepared for voice activation, as a backup for the keyboard. The blue numbers counted, 38, 39, 40, while Jake kept his eye on the clock and the monitor. 57, 58, 59, almost there! He found himself holding his breath as the numbers counted 05, 06, 07...
The darkness was a shock after the bright light from the monitors and the clocks. He heard Mike say "What the hell?" as he said "Aw fuck, what's wrong?" He swiveled around to his CPU box, looking for the power light, but did not see it. In the background, emergency lights had switched on, but the area around the room was only dimly lit - no monitor, no power lights on the electronics, nothing showed.
"Shit, what happened Jake? The server seemed fine, what happened to our computers? And the lights, the power is off?"
"I dunno, let me check my phone." Jake pulled out a smart phone and frowned when it didn't respond when he swiped it. He pushed on the power button, and it still didn't respond. He pushed on the button harder, still nothing. "Fuck, piece of American junk, it's not working either! How about your phone, any luck?" Jake asked. He could make out Mike in the glow of the emergency lights, but couldn't tell what he was doing.
"Nothing here either and I've got a good quality Indian phone, one of those MinaSmart models. Damned thing won't power back up."
Jake started to slam his phone on the desk, and then stopped, he didn't want to waste credit repairing his phone, again. He stood up, and started to pace, trying to figure out what to do. As he walked back and forth in the office, he stopped by the window and moved the blind back. He looked outside, and called over to Mike. "Hey Mike, come here and look at this."
"What for, we need to figure out if the server patch took hold, how is looking outside going to help?" Mike said but he stood up and walked towards Jake.
"I think the server patch is the least of our worries." Jake pointed out the window towards the valley their office overlooked. "I don't see any car lights and damned few house lights out there. The only lights on the roads are street lamps, probably battery powered. The valley should be lit up like a cyber special, not dark."
Mike whispered, "Whoa, what happened?"
Jake thought a moment and said, "I think the 2038 bug happened but no one thought it would be like this. Developers like us were supposed to prevent this."
"Well, it doesn't look like it worked. What do we do now?" Mike asked
"Hell if I know, our server seems pretty small potatoes. I wonder if the desk phone works?" Jake reached over for one of the old style desk phones, still available as a backup. He picked it up, listened on the ear piece and gently placed it down again. "Nothing and there should be a dial tone, it uses land line tech. This is bad Mike, this is bad."
"Yeah, and I'm wondering, are the elevators working? Otherwise, how do we get down?"
Jake grinned at Mike, barely able to see his friend in the dim light. "Stairs my friend, stairs are the answer. Let's go see if the elevators work and if there is anyone else here. We need to find out what's going on." Jake thought for a second, said, "And cross your fingers that it's only here in the Valley and not everywhere. Otherwise we are all going to be in a world of hurt."
Mike looked at him and slowly nodded, "Yeah, things could be very bad if that's the case."
Jake got up and looked around, wondering if he should take anything with him. He grabbed his jacket and his bottle of water. After a pause, he opened up a desk drawer and grabbed some of his snacks, stuffed them into the pockets of his jacket and turned back to Mike. Mike had also grabbed a few items from his desk. Jake looked around and felt a sinking feeling in his gut. He wondered if they would be back again.
"Let's go, maybe we can find out what's up." Jake started walking towards the Exit sign and the stairs.
"Hopefully just a glitch here in the valley, and not foul ups with other software and patches," Mike said with a grin.
"Yeah, that's probably it. Here we are, at least we'll get some exercise on the way down." He opened the door to the stairs, and was very glad of the glow of emergency lights. He heard footsteps above and below of others who had decided to exit the building. "C'mon, let's get going. I hear other people in here. Hey, anyone know what's going on?"
A voice from below said, "No idea here, was just finishing up accounting for the day when the frigging computer shut off, along with the power."
Jake waved at Mike and started moving down the stairs quickly. "Wait up, we were monitoring a server patch when everything shut down. Our phones don't work either, so no help there." Mike followed behind Jake as they moved from the fifth floor down to the fourth. On the fourth floor landing, they could see a young woman standing there, her long hair hanging down, her face hidden by shadows in the soft light. Jake stopped, raised his hands and said, "Hello, we work for QZ-Bit and we were monitoring the patch deployment for the 2038 bug when this," he pointed around him as he spoke, "happened. I'm Jake, and this guy here, is Mike, who was helping to watch. I'd hate to think this was caused by the bug, but the timing sure seems coincidental."
The young woman looked up at Jake and he could see her face a little more clearly as she turned towards the light. She was young, with worry lines scrunching up as she looked back at him. "I'm Amanda, a CPA, and I was getting things setup for the tax season. I was just finishing up, thank god I saved, when the power went out and my computer shut off. I tried to restart it, but no luck. I tried my phone too, it won’t power up at all! I’ve only had this phone for a year, it should still work. Since there is no power, I decided I'd head home." She shrugged and said, "Elevator was out, so here I am on the stairs, I figured it was just this building."
Jake shook his head and said, "We looked out the window, it's dark out there and no lights at all, not even from cars. Not much we can do here, so decided to head down and see if we could find out what's going on."
"No lights outside? That's a big power outage. Maybe something did happen?" she asked.
"Maybe, let's keep going and see. Looks like everyone else here has the same idea." While they had been talking, another person had walked past them and they could hear others on the stairs below them as doors opened and footsteps echoed on the metal.
"Yes, might as well. At least I had finished up with my work."
"If things hadn't shut down we would have been writing up our reports. Not a good way to go home early,” Jake said. He started walking down the stairs, Mike and Amanda followed along behind him. As they walked down the other floors, they could hear and see more people also walking down. There was some chatter but Jake was in too much of a hurry to get downstairs and find out what was going on. After a few minutes, they reached the door to the outside. Jake opened it up and they all walked through.
The air was a bit chilly and there was a soft glow from the street lights, reflected on the clouds above them. There were also people milling around, with more people joining the small crowds on the streets. There was a low murmur of conversation as people walked around on the sidewalks.
"...power outage, haven't had one of those in a while..."
"...damn, hadn't gotten dinner yet, have to leave now..."
"...2038 bug, it's a coup by the government, you mark my words..."
"...oh my god, we're being invaded, I know, aliens have landed..."
Jake heard bits of conversations as he went by, but he didn't hear anything that would help him. People seemed calm or had friends who were calming them down as they walked. There were many people walking out of the restaurants, grumbling because they hadn't been served. A few look happy and he heard "awesome, free meal because the terminals were down," and his heart sank a little further. If payment systems weren't working, that pointed to a big problem. He leaned over to Mike and said "I don't think this is just a power outage." Mike nodded and said, "I don't think so either. The only lights that are working are battery powered, everything else seems dead."
Amanda leaned over and said, "What are you two whispering about? This is just a power outage, right?"
"The pay terminals are down too," Jake whispered to her, trying to avoid saying anything too loudly.
"So? Pay terminals need power, wouldn't they stop working too?"
Jake shook his head and said, "They have a redundant backup so they can work while a shop closes up during a power outage. There are also backup systems for the net connection so they stay synched with banks and accounts. What I'm hearing is that none of that is working and it should be."
Amanda frowned and asked, "It could still be just a power outage, even those systems can fail, right?"
"Sure, but since it happened at the same time as the bug, it seems a bit fishy. Plus, look who's walking down the street."
They all looked down the street towards the police who were patrolling in a group. They weren't openly carrying their guns but they were looking around cautiously and beckoning people to keep moving and get home. While Jake watched, one of the officers raised a bull horn and said "Everyone, there is a power outage in the Bay Area, it is being worked on right now. In the meantime, please go home and get off the streets, they need to be kept clear in case emergency vehicles need to travel." As he made the announcement, other officers started spreading out, waving for people to keep moving. A few people walked up to try to ask questions but the officers brusquely pointed for them to keep going. Jake looked back at Mike and Amanda and said softly "I think we'd better head on out. Amanda, do you live far? We can walk you home, if you need it."
"I only live a couple of blocks away, I'll be fine. The crowd seems calm so far. How about you guys?"
"We live in walking distance too, trying to save up money. We just live a few blocks from downtown."
"Good to hear. Well, this should all be fixed by tomorrow morning so I'm going home. Be safe, maybe we'll see each other at the office tomorrow." She waved to them and started walking ahead. Jake looked back over at Mike and said "I don't think it's going to be fixed by tomorrow morning but not much we can do right now. Let's head to our place, I'm ready to crash. Who knows, maybe it is just here."
"Yeah, probably so, and I'm ready to crash too. Glad we did grocery shopping last night, we got lots of snacks and beer to keep us company.”
Jake grinned and started walking towards their apartment. His grin faded as he noticed more police filling the street while everyone else gradually walked on. As a veteran, he recognized their wariness as the police watched everyone walking by. He also noticed they were not using radios or phones as they reported in. There seemed to be runners who were carrying messages back to their command. His heart sank even further as he remembered standard procedures during the war, when power, water and the internet would go down for days at a time and the military used old methods of communication. As a member of cyber-ops he hadn’t been located where the power outages and food shortages occurred but he remember all too well the chaos he would see on the drones he flew for reconnaissance. He enjoyed his job with QZ-Bit because he wasn’t confronted with those horrors and a part of him was angry this had happened again. “It isn’t fair, I’ve done my time,” he thought, than he was ashamed, he had not suffered like the civilians had who had to make do in the chaos after the attacks.
As he and Mike continued walking down the street, he realized that he might need to report in to the reserves but he would have no idea if he was needed while communications were out.
“Mike, I need to check with one of these guys to see if reserves are being called up.”
“You sure dude? It doesn’t look like these guys want to answer questions,” Mike said, while waving towards a patrol that was walking down the street. Jake could hear them talking, their tone was serious and not answering any questions as people walked up to them to ask. However, the police were staying polite, just firm and people were walking away instead of sticking around.
“Yeah, I’ve got to do this. Doesn’t look like they’ll bounce me to the curb if I ask.”
Jake slowly walked over to one of the officers who immediately turned to face him. The officer was alert but hadn’t pulled a weapon.
“Sir, I have a quick question, then we’ll be on our way,” Jake said. The officer tensed up and said “What is it, I don’t have much time.”
“Is there an area for the reserves to report to? I don’t know if they need me so I wanted to check in, just I case.”
The officer relaxed and answered “Not right now, the reserves aren’t needed. But check back in the morning if power isn’t back on. We are still assessing and getting information.” After the officer finished speaking he looked around and leaned in towards Jake. He whispered “Keep this to yourself for right now, this isn’t local and it isn’t expected to be fixed by morning. Check in at the precinct, we should have more information by then.”
The officer straightened up, all business and waved them back to the sidewalk. Jake nodded and walked back to Mike.
“You got to report in?” Mike asked.
“Nah, not yet, he said check back in the morning, if the power is still off.”
“What else did he tell you when he leaned over,” Mike said.
“Just said to keep an eye out and come back to the precinct in the morning, if needed. Why, did you think he was telling me secret spy shit or something?” Jake asked. He felt uncomfortable lying to his friend but he found that his old security habits were starting to kick in. It would be all too easy to start a panic if people thought they were back in a cyber war. The police didn’t need a mob and looters while they tried to figure things out.
“Just wondered, seemed to have a lot to say. C’mon, let’s get back before the beer gets hot, I’m ready for a break.” Mike started walking faster towards their apartment.
Jake hurried to catch up with him but his mind was already mulling over the officer’s news. He shivered a bit and wondered how much had gone wrong when the bits flipped on all the computers.