Author : Cesium

They were together when the city stopped.

Their office perched atop a spire reaching up from the business district. Usually holoscreens afforded them a panoramic, unobstructed view of the city, or of whatever other landscape they wished to see, but those were dead now and only a single transparent wall afforded them a view of the neighboring towers, now suddenly gone dark and silent.

Then, because it was their job, they ran down the hall to the backup interface and tried to trace the problem.

Basic systems were still running — power, water, air — but all higher-level functions had ceased. Citywide routing and guidance algorithms had failed, leaving vehicles to come to a halt on their own collision-avoidance routines. Only a few emergency lights, designed to be always on, still cast their soft glow onto the streets. And of course all information and communications systems were down, including the interactive panels that lined these corridors.

The backup interface was a wide area packed with machinery whose purpose even she wasn’t sure of. It was the first time either of them had seen the city go down, and even their teachers had only been able to offer advice instead of concrete knowledge about this situation. He glanced at her; she shrugged, but tossed him a manual. It was a physical book, thick and bound, and he fumbled for a second before he could open it. Outside, some of the lights were starting to come back on, as they were switched over from the city’s unresponsive power-management grid to standalone controllers.

The first test was to try the direct neural interface. But the link was down; her thoughts couldn’t establish a connection. Similarly, the giant holoscreen mounted on one wall flashed red and displayed an apology; it couldn’t locate the city server.

They tried then interface after interface, going through the long list of communications protocols that the city understood, which it had accumulated over centuries of upgrades to its computer core. And slowly they discovered what the machines filling the room were for. After the first hour they had to abandon the holoscreen. One method used an interface combining hand motions with voice control, which she found immensely tiring. The fifth hour found them both staring at a flat screen, touching a pad in front of them to manipulate symbols and icons. And still they kept running into failure after failure. The protocols they were using were too high-level; the error was somewhere deeper.

By the seventh hour, they’d gotten out an ancient piece of polymer called a mouse, and were moving it around on a table. And then, the screen lit up. It was something he’d tried on a whim, activating a function buried deep in the code. The screen bore the words “more magic”, and a crude line drawing of a bearded figure on a cloud. Below was a button labeled “let there be light”. She glanced at him; he shrugged.

She clicked on the button.

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