Author : Paul Bort

Telic didn’t know what to do next. The barn was gone. Not gone with splinters everywhere, hinting that there was once a barn. This was gone like it had been edited out. Nothing left but dirt.

The sun was setting, and the cows were wandering back, the first few lowing in confusion.

It wasn’t a big farm. A few dozen cows, twice as many chickens, and a family of German Shepherds who maintained order. Now it was an even smaller farm, lacking what had been its largest building.

He turned to look at the farmhouse, hoping it was still there, and secretly fearing it would not be. Reassured by its lack of absence, a memory clicked, and he remembered his grandfather telling stories about the war. Everyone called it the “Reality War”, because calling it “World War Five” or “Interplanetary War One” didn’t quite cover it.

Yes, it had affected everyone on Earth, plus the lunar and martian colonies. But it wasn’t a war of tanks and missles. It was a war of technology. Computer virii seemed harmless enough until 2,000 people died when the life support on their dome on Mare Crisium went spastic. Half of them cooked, the other half froze. Once the temperatures reached either 50C or -50C, the system lowered the air pressure to 50 Pascals.

Then came the nanotech. Microscopic, general-purpose assemblers. Powered by low-dose microwaves, they were like a miracle. They worked better as air pressure decreased, so the first big use was going to be expanding our presence on Mars.

200 cubic meters of them were packed onto a rocket. During the count down, an alarm sounded. An access hatch at the top of the payload area was open. At the same time, a TV satellite started transmitting power and instructions to the nanobots. In hours, the entire launch facility was gone.

The war had begun. No one knew (or at least no one said) who was behind each attack. For all the news said, it could be rival internet gangs.

The war ended a few years later with millions of casualties and a newfound respect for computer security experts. The UN unanimously agreed that using software to kill people was just as offensive as using nuclear weapons. There would be no forgiveness for next time.

Despite the difficulty in determining who had launched which attacks throughout the war, this somehow worked. Life got back to normal.

Some people wanted to get away from technology, including Telic’s grandfather. He had been an accountant all his life, and was hired by the US government as part of a team that generated economic forecasts for various attack scenarios. By the time the war was over, he was tired of seeing the damage done, even if it was mostly on paper.

So he bought this farm in Northern California and settled down.

Recalling the history brought clarity, and Telic knew what his next step should be. Slowly walking back to the house, he plugged in and fired up the old hardened laptop his grandfather had left in a box marked “Justin Case”. No one named Justin had come by looking for it, so like many things in disused corners of a farmhouse, it sat there until needed.

The laptop finished booting, and one of the folders on the desktop was named “nano”. After a few minutes of reading, Telic knew a lot more about the war. Which side he was on, and where he was headed with a small package and an old microwave oven.


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