Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The woman with the crossbow spits into the fire.
“I don’t understand why they didn’t just reboot the computers as soon as it started.”
Her sidekick nods, pushing their cap back before joining in.
“Reckon a lot of them eye-tee types were in on it. Musta been.”
The man next to me tucks a rusty revolver back inside his jacket before adding an opinion.
“It’s like that Y2K bollocks. They played that, made a fortune, and nothing happened.”
The woman’s not impressed.
“Except, this time, everything happened and they didn’t say a thing beforehand.”
He nods, trying to appear sage.
“That’s my point. They knew. They all fucking knew. They’re off somewhere right now, living on an island-”
“Sitting by a campfire listening to people spout on about things they know nothing of.”
Just like that, I’m centre of attention.
“You saying I’m an idiot?”
I glare at him.
“No. I’m saying you don’t know what happened, so you’re making things up because not knowing makes you feel uncomfortable.”
“I have a gun.”
“Yes, I’ve seen it. It’s a big one. You find it comforting, but aren’t confident with it, unlike the lady with the crossbow.”
I glance at her. She changes aim from me to him.
“Before anybody gets violent, I’m sure few know what actually happened. I worked with computers, and all I’ve got are good guesses. Would you like to hear?”
The ring of people grows as others crowd in. The woman nods.
“Whoever did this spent years setting it up. Getting their software, which must have taken a good while to prepare, installed everywhere in places where reboots and the like wouldn’t stop it. They went about it in various ways: most of it included with other applications or hacks. A surprising amount was added to hardware by people assembling devices without knowledge of what exactly they did – put the chip with the yellow writing in the top right, the one with the blue numbers in the lower left, and so on. Automated assembly lines would have been compromised in a similar way.
“The key factor here is patience. Nothing happened until they were sure they’d infected most of the world’s digital infrastructure. Then someone launched the activation commands. Now, that’s not as simple as typing ‘stop’. It involved several hundred instructions, each for a different system, probably duplicated, and with multiple ways to get where they needed. That would have been noticed. Cybersecurity suites across the world would have raised alerts. However, I doubt any of them occurred more than a few minutes before the systems they ran on failed.”
I look about. I think a few of them are getting it.
“We all know the results. The death toll is incomprehensible. The knock-on effects will remain with us for decades. I suspect the only reason we’re still here is that all the nuclear missile control systems defaulted to non-hostile when they went down.”
I suspect some tried to launch, but their silo covers had already failed. That would have destroyed whole sites, but at the cost of everything within a hundred kilometres or so.
There are one or two people whose expressions betray realisation. Time to wake everyone else up.
“The thing to understand is none of this was an accident. Somebody intended to ruin the world, and they’ve nearly succeeded. I don’t know why. Best case is something like extreme nihilism: they wanted to destroy everything.”
The woman nods.
“Worst case is it was the opening move. In that case, better hope they got overwhelmed and killed by their own apocalypse.”