As the morning sun shone through the crack in the curtains, Jake groaned and pulled a pillow over his head to block the light. After a restless night, tossing and turning as he thought about the power outage, he wasn't ready to get up and go to work yet. He lay on the bed, trying to go back to sleep, but thoughts started circling in his brain while he remembered about the power outage and Year 2038 bug. He rolled over and tried counting backwards from 100 in order to try to get back to sleep.
After a few minutes of flopping back and forth on his bed, repeating numbers in his head and worry sneaking in, he groaned and decided he might as well get up. He sat up, shivering slightly as he moved the covers down. Reluctantly he threw back the covers and felt goose bumps on his arms when he stood up. He walked over to the bathroom, flipped the light switch, then off and on again, but the bathroom didn’t light up. There was a small window above the tub so he went ahead and used the toilet. When he finished, he started to reach out to flush the toilet, then paused, thinking about the possibility of not having water. He didn't know if San Jose pumped their water or if it was gravity fed, but if it was pumped water might be hard to come by. He decided to wait and check with Mike to see if anything new had happened. Time to follow that good old California drought advice, ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”
When he walked into the dining area, Mike sat at the table, shoveling in a spoonful of cereal and milk from one of their bowls. "Morning Mike, breakfast of champions, I see.” He went over to the refrigerator and looked over the choices for breakfast. Normally he'd fix scrambled eggs but that was a nogo since the stove wouldn't power on. While a beer with a sandwich might taste good, he wanted to keep a clear head so he decided to have a bowl of cereal too.He sniffed at the carton, thought for a moment, and reached for the cereal box on the counter. While he poured the cereal and milk, he listened as Mike answered
"Good morning to you too sunshine, yeah, well, I don’t see a campfire ring for a fire, so I’m going with what we’ve got. Sucks the power is still off and my cell phone still doesn’t work either. I tried to turn my phone on this morning, still a nogo.” He crunched on another spoonful of cereal and his answer was muffled while he crunched on the cereal. “No power in the neighborhood either, a lot of people walking around and talking to each other."
Jake grabbed a spoon from the drawer and joined Mike at the table. Mike was slurping up the last of the milk while Jake started with to spoon up his breakfast.
"Mike, that's gross, didn't your mother teach you manners?" Jake was eating slowly, making sure nothing dripped off the spoon before he brought it up to his mouth.
"Gross, you want gross, how about some seafood?" Mike asked while holding his mouth open to show mushed cereal and milk. He closed his mouth, belched and picked up a napkin to wipe his face. Milk was still left above his upper lip after his first swipe.
"Yeah, yeah, see food, I get it, ain't English wonderful for its puns. Did you see any police or troops on our street? Or anyone else with authority? I’d like to see if we can find out what’s going on."
Mike finished drinking the milk from the tipped up bowl and put it down on the table. He wiped away his milk moustache and said, "I didn’t see anybody out there that looked like they knew what is happening. Since you were sleeping in, I dug around in our emergency supplies and found an old radio but it wouldn't turn on either. It's got solar batteries and I left it in the sun but it still wouldn't turn on for me.” Mike stood up and put his bowl in the sink, then turned back to the table to face Jake. He looked thoughtful as he asked, “You think this is just San Jose?"
Jake continued eating cereal while he thought about the squestion. "I've got a bad feeling about this and I don't think just San Jose is affected. I also don't see much point in worrying about things until we get more information. Hmm, I wonder if I still have the radio I had as a kid maybe that would work."
"What, you have an old battery powered radio or something?"
"Something like that, my dad gave it to me, he'd used it as a kid." Jake ate more quickly, he was fairly sure he still had the radio, but where was it? When he remembered, he jumped up. "Yes, I do have it, let me go get it and see if I can pick up anything."
A few minutes later he came back with an old box with a metal antenna sticking up. He had pulled the cover off and was checking a compartment. "I forget why, but I got new rechargeable batteries and put them in last year, let's see if there is any charge or if this radio will work. I don't think it has any electronics inside, so maybe..." he said hopefully.
He put the cover back and after a quick look at Mike, her turned the On/Off knob to On, then turned up the volume. A little light turned on and they could both hear static from the little speaker. "It does work, now, I wonder if anyone is on the air?"
He sat the radio on the table, and then sat back down at his place. Mike leaned over, listening as Jake moved the tuning knob back and forth across the frequencies. There was no change in the static as Jake checked the FM frequencies. He moved the knob back again after he finished but even moving slower he could not hear anything. He and Mike locked eyes for a brief moment before Jake went back to the radio.
"I'll try AM, maybe some hobbyist will be broadcasting." He switched to the AM mode and started moving the tuning knob again. The first time he only heard static and he was sure he was wasting his time. However, he might as well try one more pass, what better did they have to do?
The second time he moved across the frequencies very slowly but still heard only static. He was about to give up when he thought he heard something different in the static. He moved the tuning back and forth around the 1400 mark and thought he caught something again.
"I think I heard something, did you hear something Mike?" Jake asked.
"Try it again, I think I did hear something."
Very carefully, Jake slowly moved the tuner in the 1400 location. As he moved, he stopped when he heard a voice but he couldn't understand what was being said."
"You got something but what are they saying? Is the radio, screwing it up because it's old?" Mike asked.
"No, I don't think so, let me listen again." Jake held his ear to the small speaker and listened as the tinny voice came out. After a few seconds he guffawed and said "China town, we're picking up China town, I think that's Chinese. Figures, those old timers in China town would cobble something together that works. But it's scary there aren't any other radio stations on the air."
"Yeah, it is. Jake, let's get ready and go, I want to find out what's going on."
Jake stood up after turning off the radio. "I want to know what's going on too. I might be called back on duty with the Reserves too if this is a big problem. Let's get dressed and go, maybe we can find out more from other people. We can also stop by the office, maybe they have generators turned on at the building."
"I'll meet you out here," Mike said as he went to his bedroom to get dressed.
* * *
While Jake was waiting for Mike, he walked around the apartment to check and see how secure things were. They were on the third floor so people on the ground couldn't get in, but people above or below them might be able to drop down to the balcony and get in that way. He got a stick out to put in the sliding door and checked to make sure all of the other windows were closed. He debated about bringing his gun and decided he'd be better off with just his knives. He didn't want to appear to be a threat. He ticked off a list in his head of preparation for a possibly hostile situation, just like he had when he was in the military.
“Hey, Mike, you ready yet?” he hollered out.
“Yeah man, I’m all freshened up and ready to go, just need to make a pit stop before we wander around the promenade.”
Jake remembered thinking about the water earlier and said “Don’t flush, we might need the water in the tank later.
“Yech, things could get nasty if the power doesn’t come back on,” Mike said loudly with through the open door.
“You fucking barbarian, close the door, no one wants to see your man bits hanging out.”
“You’re jealous, the ladies wouldn’t mind.”
“Yeah, in your dreams barbarian, now hurry up, I want to see what’s happening,” Jake said, tapping his foot while he waited. He could hear the sound of water hitting water but fortunately no splashing of shit hitting the water instead of the fan. Piss would stink bad enough, add in shit and well, it could get rough. While he was thinking about the possibilities, Mike came out, zipping up and snapping his pants closed.
“You presentable now for all of the ladies or do you need to use a little of that toilet water for the eau de musk smell to bring them around?” Jake asked, grinning at his roommate.
Mike sniffed, holding his nose in the air. “I am ready for our morning constitutional and for the ladies we might encounter as we amble over to our building. Shall we go good sir?” Mike bowed towards the door, with a sweeping gesture towards Jake to go first.
“Yes, let’s go,” Jake answered, voice quivering slightly. Mike raised an eyebrow and Jake shrugged, wondering what they would find on their walk. Mike was behind him as he opened the door and stepped on the walkway and headed towards the stairs.
The air was nippy but not too chilly this morning. Amazingly, they had clear skies instead of the foggy weather that usually held sway over the Bay area. Both of them were walking briskly, hands in the pockets of their jackets, dodging the other pedestrians. The streets were full of people who spilled out into the roads. The police were still patrolling, runners still carrying messages for them as they walked along the streets. As the crowds would start to move into the street, some of the police would gather and move everyone back to the sidewalks. However, people were still calm, keeping a distance from the police while they stopped and talked with others. A few people would stop and try to talk with a policeman but they were told to move back and keep the roadways clear.
Jake was watching the police, wondering what was happening when he bumped into someone. “Excuse me,” he said as the other person turned to him.
“Hey software guy, watch where you’re going,” the young woman said while grinning.
It took Jake a few seconds but he recognized her from last night, Amanda, the CPA who worked in their building. He smiled back at her, both of them stopped while people walked around them. Mike had continued walking and just noticed that Jake wasn’t with him, so he walked back.
“You’re up early, I thought you software types stayed up late and slept late.”
“I’m no bro, I get my sleep. What are you doing out here, I thought you were happy to have some time off from your job.”
“Yeah, well, I just want to see if the building has power. Plus, there’s nothing to do and my roommate is visiting her family in Ohio so I figured I might as well get out and see if there is any news. It’s amazing that nothing is working, usually things get fixed quickly.”
“Most of the time they do, they’ll probably get the power back on sometime today. Now the guys working the power plants and utilities, those are the guys who stayed up late,” Jake answered.
“I suppose so, that must be a tough job, especially right now. Well, watch your step, the next person you trip over may not be so forgiving. See you guys later,” she said as she walked off waving.
Mike was watching her, his look moving up and down as she made her way through the crowds. Jake watched his friend and poked him with his elbow. “C’mon Romeo, let’s get going. After we check out the office you can see if you can find her again.”
“Ah, yeah, let’s get going.”
They started walking again, pushing through the crowds and trying to avoid collisions with other people. As they approached their building, Jake started moving to the right, with Mike following him. As he got to the edge of the building, he saw Amanda standing at the door trying to open it. He jogged up to her and could see her pushing on the door handle.
“Hey there CPA girl, the doors won’t automatically open without power, you’ll need a key.”
“I know, but I forgot mine, I didn’t think about the doors being locked.”
Jake reached into his pants pockets and pulled out an old-fashioned metal key. “Fortunately, I did not forget my key and since I can vouch for you, I will be glad to let you in when we go in.” He reached out to the door lock, inserted the key and twisted. He could hear a click and pushed open the door. He still kept a lookout for trouble and motioned for Amanda and Mike to enter ahead of them. He felt much better once he made it inside and locked the door again.
As they walked over to the stairs, the footsteps echoed in the entry chamber of the building. Jake felt a shiver at the sudden quiet after the noise of the crowds outside. “Good day for some exercise, at least we aren’t on the 20th floor. I’m surprised no one else is here.”
“There might be other people in the building in the offices,” Amanda pointed out.
Jake nudged Mike again as he stared at Amanda. She was ignoring him while she opened the door to the stairs. Mike shook his head, mumbled ‘sorry’, and then followed Amanda in the stairs. Jake took one more look around the entry chamber, reviewing it for a defensive position. The doors were glass and there were some windows but most of them were higher up in the wall. The building was built in between the cyber wars and was designed to reduce the possibility of drone attacks into windows or glass walls. He felt for his knife as they started walking up the stairs to their offices. Based on what he had seen so far he didn’t expect to find anything working but they needed to check. He turned back to the stairs and jogged up them in order to catch up with Mike and Amanda.
The office was quiet with no hum from heating unit or the computers in the office. Jake had opened up the blinds so that Mike and he could see in the office. He had tried flipping the switch on and off but there was no change. He shook his head and decided to look out the window while Mike checked his computer.
During daytime, the buildings looked normal, even without power. However, the sidewalks and streets did not look normal with all of the people out walking around. As he looked down, he could see some people going into a few buildings but many of the sidewalk shops were closed and locked up. There were police walking up and down the streets but things were still calm. At least there were emergency supplies in place because of the Federal Emergency Education, Dining, Milk and Extras (FEEDME) act of 2029, which mandated that all businesses keep a supply of seven days food and water for occupants in the building. Individuals received a tax break if they could provide receipts of emergency supplies bought during the year so the majority of people had food and water for the next few days. With the natural disasters caused by climate change, people had learned to prepare for several days without power.
However, there was usually some kind of power from generators or batteries and Jake didn’t see any signs of this in the crowds milling through the streets. He also noticed that there were no vehicles moving, even police vehicles, which was very unusual. He had started to notice that all of the items that didn’t work were electronic and had some type of computing chip in them. Yet testing for the 2038 bug had been going on for years and many problems had been found and fixed over the last twenty years. How could everything have failed at the same time?
“Hey Jake, nothing works, we might as well go back home.”
“You can go home, I need to check in for the reserves. I think the police are going to need more help soon.”
“Should I go with you? I’m not in the reserves but I did do my two years of service, I might be able to help out.”
Jake shook his head and said, “No, I think they’ll need help but not that much help yet. If I hear differently I can make sure someone contacts you.”
“Okay, but I feel like I should do something more to help.”
“Why don’t you check the supplies here and then go home and check supplies there, we want to make sure are good. Also, why don’t you check about the toilet situation, it would be nice to know if we can flush or not,” Jake answered.
“Good idea, yeah, things are going to get stinky if no one can flush.”
“That’s an understatement. Okay, I’m good here, I’m going down to the precinct office to report in. I may not be home tonight, I’ll try to let you know.” Jake stood, taking a minute to look at his roommate. On impulse, he went over, hugged him, and stood back. “Take it easy Mike, I’ll see you as soon as I can.”
Mike looked down at his feet and back at his roommate. “Yeah, I’ll see you soon. Take care of yourself, it’d be a pain to find another roommate right now.”
Jake laughed, and then said “I suppose it would be. Gotta head out, I’ll see you later man.”
“Later, hey, maybe I can get Amanda to come over tonight, since I’ll be all alone. You know what I hope you are stuck on duty tonight so I can have a bachelor pad.”
Jake was at the door and preparing to walk out. “Be good, don’t have a #metoo moment, I don’t want to bail you out. Seriously, I’ll see you later.” He walked out the door, the smile dropping off his face as he headed for the stairs. He jogged down them, in a hurry to see if he could find out what was happening.
A half hour later Jake had found the precinct station for the area. There was a steady stream of police going in and out, along with civilians mixed in. Most of the civilians were turned away but he noticed some men and woman being admitted. They all looked fit and alert, he suspected they were also reserves like himself.
There was a long line to the entrance. He stepped behind a young woman who was dressed in a practical style, old style jeans, comfortable blouse and comfortable shoes. Her brown, curly hair was tied back in a ponytail that hung halfway down her back. He followed her and noticed that more people were getting in line behind him.
When they approached the door, the woman was motioned up while another officer stopped him about ten feet away. After a few minutes, the officer at the door opened the door and the woman entered. The officer next to him said “Go on up sir,” and turned to the person behind him.
“Hello sir, what brings you here?” the officer at the door asked.
“I’m active reserves, Air Force, checking to see if I need to report in.” Jake stayed relaxed, eyes gathering in his surroundings while waiting for the officer to answer.
“Air Force? Do you happen to be Roger Thorogood, Bill WInckley or Jake Donalds?” he asked as he paged through a notebook.
“I am Jake Donalds.”
“Hmm, there is a request for you to report to our cyber team,” the officer said while turning the page to another location. He wrote something down on the notebook, then tore out a page and gave it to Jake. “Take this and go in and turn right. Look for room 187, it’s down at the end of the hall. Go in and report to the officer on duty. She will fill you in on the situation,” the officer told him. Then he turned to the line and said next while Jake took the scrap of paper.
Jake went into the building and turned to the right and the long hallway. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to be going home tonight.
Jake sat and tapped his foot, looking around and wondering when someone would call him into the office. The waiting room was at the end of the building and was warm from the sunlight shining through the windows. There were several others waiting here with him, including the young woman who had been ahead of him in the line. He shifted his legs again, leaned over and then leaned back, impatient to start doing something. As he was scratching his nose, the office door opened and he heard “Jake Donalds, is Jake Donalds here?”
“Right here,” he said as he popped up, eager to find out what he could do to help.
“Follow me,” the male officer said as he went in through the door. There was a large room filled with cubicles with light from flashlights. The room had an eerie glow as he followed him through the hallway. He turned left, stopped in front of a door, and knocked. Jake heard “Bring him in!” and the officer opened the door. He walked up and blinked as the bright sunlight blinded him for a few seconds.
Once his eyes adjusted he could see a typical office with windows looking out into a grassy training area by the building. The desk was piled high with folders and more folders were piled on a table on Jake’s left side. He could see his name and picture on an open folder on the desk. A woman was standing, looking him over while his eyes adjusted. He walked over to the desk and held out his hand, she reached out and shook his hand.
“Jake Daniels, reporting for duty ma’am”
“Have a seat Jake, I’m glad you reported in. We’re having a hard time reaching people so it’s a big help when reservists report in.” She sat down behind the desk while Jake turned the plastic chair around and then sat down. She looked bemused at his maneuver, and then focused on the folder in front of her.
“I see you served in the Air Force during Cyber War II as part of the Homeland Security integrated force, is that correct?”
“You were in charge of infrastructure protection and worked with Brian Davis with drone team support?”
“Yes ma’am. We kept busy.”
“I see that you received a Purple Heart, that seems unusual for a drone pilot,” she asked him.
“Yes ma’am, it was unusual, but there was an attack by enemy drones at our building during a shift change. The shift had just changed and the guard wasn’t fully in place yet so I didn’t feel I could leave. The attack on our building was a diversion, there was another attack in Texas and I stayed at my post to deal with that situation. When the explosion occurred,I took shrapnel.” He shrugged, that was a long time ago.
“You also stayed at your post after the explosion and successfully defended the Texas sector in spite of the loss of your comms?”
“I did what I had to do.”
She continued to flip through his pages while Jake waited, foot tapping on the floor as he held his arms across his chest. He knew she was assessing him and his reaction but he wanted to get out and do something.
“A good record and good experience. However, I’m going to ask for your help based on a hobby you have. You have a ham radio license?”
Surprise filled his face as he answered “Yeah, had one since I was a teen, why?”
“Right now the only communications we have that work consistently are ham radios.”
Jake sat back, arms dropping down, stunned at this announcement. The backbone communications network had been designed to be failsafe, have separate power sources and operate in conditions like the current situation. If it wasn’t working that implied…
“It sounds like the power is out everywhere, not just here?”
“From what we can tell, it is out everywhere in the US and possibly the world.”
“What happened? Is it the 2038 bug?”
She shook her head and said, “Preliminary reports indicate the 2038 bug should not have caused this but it certainly seems like something went wrong. With the limited information we have right now, it appears that anything that is operated with any type of computing device, turned itself off last night when the clock ticked over. In addition, the majority of those electronic devices will not power up. There are a few devices that power up, but our best guess is that less than 1% of all electronic devices will function after whatever happened.”
Jake sat in shock for a moment, thinking about the electronics that modern life depended on. The attack on infrastructure, power failures and the riots in the US in between the cyber wars had been bad enough and it had taken years before the affected areas recovered.
The woman continued watching him and nodded when he looked up at her. “Yes, it could get bad. However, we do have ham radios that work and we have battery units that still work to power them. We have had some communication with other groups but we need additional operators so we can have a 24/7 shift and there aren’t many operators available.”
He thought quickly and asked “Is anyone looking into getting the devices to power back up?”
She nodded and said “Yes, but no luck yet. They have to find reliable power sources, which is turning out to be more challenging than originally thought.” She paused for a moment and looked troubled. “In addition, we’ve had two reports of teams that have succeeded in powering up electronic equipment.”
“The equipment booted up normally but after a few seconds a worm started erasing the memory and any drives it could find. Those two units are completely dead now and they cannot power them back up. Other teams are reluctant to try to restart equipment since if it is wiped we don’t have a way to restore it.”
“Wow, I just, wow, what happened?”
“We don’t know and we are taking steps to keep order in place during the next seven days.”
“Do you need help here with examining the devices? I could help with that, I also have a roommate who is very good at digging into software and hardware issues.”
“Right now your ham radio experience is more important because we need to communicate with other teams. However, your roommate, Mike is it?” She pulled out another folder and Jake saw Mike’s name on it. After opening it, she flipped through, stopping to read various comments in the file. While she flipped through the folder she commented, “Fortunately, the paper archive has been kept up to date. After the last cyber war, we felt it was worth the money to keep backups just in case. I see that Mike was in for his two years of service but didn’t serve in combat duty. Do you think he could handle the discipline we would need? We are operating as a military unit and we need help but only if they understand about taking orders.”
“Ma’am, he is more of a civilian but I think he could adjust.”
She scribbled a note on Mike’s folder and handed it to Jake. “Take that to the front desk, they’ll send someone to your apartment to contact him. In the meantime, you need to go over to the comm center,” she said while writing something on his file, “They will set you up with the other operators and show you your quarters for the duration. The officer at the front desk can give you directions on where to go,” she said and handed him his file.
He stood up, almost saluted, and then held out his hand for a handshake when she did. “I’ll do what I can. I just hope we find a fix sooner rather than later.”
“We all hope that. I hope we can both go back to normal life in the next day or so but we have to plan for the worst.”
Jake walked out the door and headed back to the long hallway and the front desk. When he got back to the desk, he handed over the file and asked to send a message to Mike when the messenger went to retrieve him. He asked Mike to bring over some of his clothes, and to be careful. Then he went over to the building set up for the reservists to report in. He just hoped his stay in the military would be a short one.
Pictures by J.T. Harpster