Dark America: 2010
My name is Christopher Thomas, and as I awake from slumber I see and feel the bright sun shining through my bedroom window on this beautiful Tuesday morning. I noticed that the time was 6:35 AM, so that means I’ve got an hour, give or take a few minutes, to get ready for school. I’m 15-years-old and go to Jules Verne High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, as a Sophomore.
I quickly pulled some clothes out of my closet; there was no dress-up about this school. A plain pair of White pants, a plain blue short-sleeved T-Shirt, some underwear, and a pair of socks. I was a plain kind of dude and didn’t care about Fashion, the latest brands and all that shit. The school generally doesn’t care either. They have a dressing code for those types of people, but in most cases, no one is caught not following it. I do try to follow the rules most of the time.
I shuffled downstairs and made myself a bowl of Chocolate Cheerios. I mainly bought them because I’ve continued to eat Cheerios since I was a kid in my youth, and who hasn’t tried at least some kind of Cheerio once? They’re a classic cereal, and I wasn’t going to let the latest Chocolate Cheerios be wasted.
My mom, Melanie Thomas, sat absorbing the knowledge that is found in our local newspaper, The Enquirer. Though our newspaper isn’t “local” anymore, because anyone could just get the newspaper online complete with an RSS feed, there’s something about newspapers that keeps the computer illiterate happy. Fine with me, I guess.
I sat across from her as I inhaled my Cheerios without chewing. With milk I find that to be a lot easier.
“Morning, Ma,? I mumbled. “What you reading about today?”
“Morning, Chris.” she said, with a hint of exhaustion. “I’m reading the cartoons now, but I did read an article a few minutes ago about the CIA investigating a cyber terrorist from Russia. They won’t give his name, but they did say that they thought China is working with Russia in a collaborative effort.”
“Interesting”, I mused. “Obviously they didn’t leave clues of what they plan on doing for the CIA to find out, did they?”
“No,” she said. “The article said that the CIA is still investigating the matter.”
Investigating, my ass, I thought. Well, it’s time to brush my teeth and all that fun ass shit. I never called it fun, but whatever. Cyber terrorists. Adds a whole new complication to things.
As I heard the bus on its way, I gave my mom a peck on the cheek, told her I’d see her later, and I was off to school.
I was always a loner in school, and also on the Bus. I was quite surprised to see a dude in my seat with a backpack, and next to it was a stick that, from what I can see, went all the way down to the ground. Why would somebody want such a useless object? I wondered.
I approached my seat and asked, in a polite, calm tone, “Can you please move to another seat? I usually sit here.”
Keep in mind the bus had been moving for several minutes now, but the driver rarely gives a shit about what’s happening on his bus unless it concerns safety. Doesn’t give a damn about other people’s feelings, though, which makes me wonder of course why he’s a driver if he doesn’t like to be around kids.
“Uh, actually,” he said, “You can sit next to me if you want. Kinda cramped with you in here, though. This is the best spot for me.”
I did, reluctantly, and as he said, I was squished between the edge and him because his backpack was on the seat.
“So,” I said. “What’s that stick for? Did you just start here? Normally I don’t see people with sticks. Could be quite dangerous, possibly a lethal weapon.”
“Ah, don’t worry,” he said. My Orientation and Mobility instructors insured me when I was little I’d have proper training with such a stick and the skills it brings. It could also be used as a weapon, but it’s not highly recommended by me. Proper training in a martial discipline is more or less required, otherwise I use it for walking. Do you have any name I could call you by?”
“Chris,” I said. “Call me Chris.”
“Chris it is, then,” he said. “You can call me Mike.”
We sat in silence for a few more minutes, until Mike broke it.
“So Chris, in case you hadn’t figured it out by now, I’m blind. I did just move here, and what you call a “Stick” I call a “Cane”. They’re items used to travel around independently by sweeping it across your body from left to right, helping the blind with feeling their surroundings I guess would be a good enough explanation. The cane is supposed to match the height of the individual. My cane goes up to my chin, but I’ve had some that go up to my nose. It’s just one out of many things we do differently among our sighted peers.”
“You say it helps you get around,” I said. “How, exactly can an object as unintelligible as a freaking’ cane help you? How the hell will you know where you’re going? Sure you can find obstacles with a cane, but there’s no way in hell you can MapQuest my house and go their with a set of directions.”
“Well, I can’t use MapQuest, as from my limited use it’s inaccessible to screen reading software, but I can use GPS, thanks to my Apple iPhone, and if that doesn’t work, there’s always another blind product that costs an arm and three legs around the corner,” Mike said.
“WTF?” I asked. “Blind people can use iPhones? Totally fuckin’ rad!” I exclaimed.
“Indeed,” Mike said. “It is Fuckin’ awesome.”
“How do you use them? I’ve got an iPhone, was never a fan of that damned Droid alternative,” I said.
“Ah, it’s called VoiceOver,” Mike said. “You can enable it on your phone by going to Accessibility, under Settings. Instead of just regularly tapping it, though, if you keep doing that, the icon you’re tapping will be spoken over and over until you Double-Tap it twice quickly to actually open it, the app, or whatever. From there, you’ll have to learn it on your own. Turn your screen curtain on so you can’t see the screen, it should be a nice challenge.”
“Indeed it will be. If I don’t have any homework tonight I’ll definitely try it out, and if I can learn it where I don’t need the screen, I’ll use voiceover all the time, then so people don’t have to see what I do,” I said.
“It’s a sweet advantage,” Mike said.
Finally our conversation ended, and I told Mike I’d talk to him either this afternoon or tomorrow. As I got off the bus, I really wondered how I’d learn the iPhone with VoiceOver tonight.
I know that does sound, shall I say, amusing, however it’s not often that a company, especially a mainstream one at that, offers a screen reader for the blind. And hey, sighted people can’t hide their iPhone screens, damnit. I’d totally love to use my phone with a black screen. I’d be totally kick ass.
My first period class was Science.
As always when I entered my class, my seat was the first one closest to the door. I don’t talk to anyone much, so I could care if I was the one out of there the quickest as soon as the bell rang.
My teacher, Carl Calloway, stood at the board writing our daily assignment.
“Today, I want to get your opinions on recent events. Please get out your journals and answer the following questions:
“1: News as of late is that “Cyber” terrorists from an unknown country and or location have gained access to our power plants and America’s power grid. How can a hacker do so much damage?
“2: What would you do if our Power Grid went out? Not just ours, but the others in this country? Surely you’d help out those in total darkness? Of course you wouldn’t be blind, we think, but who knows what could happen? Write your opinion as best you can.
“Begin, and we shall discuss these theories after five minutes. Don’t complain about the time... ?
So I got out my binder along with everyone else, and opened up to today’s page, June 14, 2010, and began to write:?Christopher Thomas June 14, 2010 Science Journal Entry How could someone in another country gain access to the power grids of another location via the internet?
It’s easy. Remote access. Okay, I know it’s remote access, I just don’t know how they connect. Cut me some slack, I read it on CNET News that cyber attacks were possible. Don’t ask me how they can shut it off, without blowing it up, of course, first. I think that’s the beauty of remote access.
What would you do without electricity?
I’m not sure, actually. Sit around and chill probably. Or talk on my cell phone, or go on my laptop, which still has charge complete with a WiFi internet Wireless air card.
Carl took our papers, and we started discussing. Some people thought the idea of someone controlling our power via the tools of the internet was utterly impossible. Others thought it was possible, but it would take more than a handful of skills not acquired by stealing other code, which is what most Script Kitties do.
I personally had a neutral position in this discussion. Whatever, we just lose power and it’ll be back in a few hours, or if it takes days, it doesn’t matter to me. I can live. Just ask anyone who’s an Amish. They live without it every day because they want to. They might not want to pay the bills either, so the less crap you have, the less the businesses make you pay.
The windows of the classroom were opened, and suddenly we all heard a bus pull up. We looked toward the window. And a second one pulled up.
Buses continued to line up in a single formation, and the intercom speaker above me made an audible beeping tone and the main office secretary known only to me as Ruby announced:
“All staff and students, our school is dismissing everyone. Breaking news indicates that the global power grid is one step closer to being compromised. We want everyone safe until everything is back to normal again. We wish you a safe trip home.”
The sound of Ruby hanging up the phone that broadcasts her voice to the school was heard, and Carl dismissed us. “I’ll see you guys when we’re back again. What perfect timing. For those of you on my Facebook, stay in touch if possible. Otherwise, I’ll see everyone once this threat has been dealt with.”
“We wish you a safe trip home,” I heard Ruby announce as the sound of my piss could be heard as it streamed out of me and into the waiting toilet below. I always liked the sound of running water, and this was no exception. I particularly liked hearing myself when I had a load of it in me, as the sound lasts longer, and it sounds pretty cool with that great echo in public bathrooms.
As I pull up my pants, snapped ‘em, and grab my cane, I noticed that Ruby, or someone else, was now streaming jazz music through the PA system. Is this supposed to keep us relaxed while we leave the school, while people, probably in another country, will be inflicting massive damage to the power grid? This has to be the biggest organized crime in history. Okay, maybe not that long, but still. If this school thinks that Jazz music will put our thoughts of a doomed America at rest, they’re totally wrong.
I leave the bathroom, cane sweeping across the length of my body, as I had been taught. I was in a crowd.
I hated crowds. Fortunately for me, this will probably be the last crowd I see for a few months, possibly even longer, if this threat is as big as the media makes it sound. If it does come to America losing power, I don’t see that as any kind of threat to me. With getting around, that is. It would certainly piss me off to have no internet, the phone lines being dead, and I really wonder what businesses will do. Guess we’ll eventually find out perhaps, as the CIA, I believe, who would be the one responsible to check what the hell this dude, or chick, whatever, is doing and do whatever it takes to stop him or her. As Ruby stated that breaking news came on about three minutes ago stating that the terrorists had gotten one step closer, I don’t see that happening any time soon. And we’ve probably only got a few hours left, I’m guessing.
I wonder what time everyone will freak out? It’s bright and sunny out today, and it’s humid as all hell out tonight, here in Philadelphia. If there are people not watching the news, they’ll be in for one big surprise.
As I sat at my regular seat by the door on the Bus, Chris sat next to me again and we talked about all kinds of things, the top discussions being the iPhone, and something he called “Operation Thirteen.” The reason why he picked that number was because thirteen symbolizes bad luck, so they say, and that’s exactly what, he says to me, he hopes the terrorists have.
“I couldn’t agree more, Chris,” I said, trying to sound sympathetic. “However, a gut-feeling tells me that it won’t be in our favor.”
“Certainly a possibility,” he said. “I’ve been thinking, Mike. What will big corporations do? Shit, what will hospitals do? A hospital runs on Electricity. Without it, they’re useless.”
“Most definitely,? I agreed. “But with a power outage comes great panic, and I think that’s what will be happening for at least five minutes. No one would dare to get hurt, especially when this isn’t a thunderstorm, or your standard short circuit wire that cuts off Electric for a short period of time, among others I can’t think of at the moment. Oh, and let’s not forget suicides. I bet that there’s a few people not ready to live in a world without electric, so they either take pleasure in electrocuting themselves while it’s still there, by using a telephone pole power line, since if anyone grab one of those wires with fifty thousand volts going through your hand you won’t be able to move an inch. You’ll just grip it tighter and would have no way out of it, period. I’m sure wherever the hackers are, they take great pleasure in seeing that as a little bit of their plans leaked, and it puts fear into some of us.”
“I think I know some other suicidal methods,” Chris said. “I don’t think we need to talk about them. But you’re right, I’m sure there probably has been some already. Remember the War of the Worlds scare?”
“Indeed I do,? I said. “And I think a similar situation will happen here, except it’s worse. Computers and the internet are involved here, and the people aren’t from Mars.”
“They say it’s someone from China or Russia, but I highly doubt it. China, it doesn’t seem likely, they make all our shit. I’m thinking more along the lines of Middle East. And, Russia, there was the Cold War. Would this be another Cold War? Hard to tell, as they aren’t exactly slaughtering people. Yet.”
We approached Chris’s stop and we exchanged phone numbers, both cell and home, with each other. Cell for obvious reasons. We wanted to get in touch with each other using our battery operated phones. I suggested Chris get himself a Skype account, because we could then talk on our laptops for free, greater quality, but unfortunately once the battery runs out, good luck trying to charge it. Maybe a generator might work to get some power, but they need fuel. Businesses can’t run, or would have significant difficulties trying to. So that also seems nearly impossible, though we’d need to think up a greater solution for getting temporary power. Surely America is more resourceful than just not having it at all, and let the hacker gloat in victory as we struggle.
I was delighted several hours later when Chris called on his new iPhone, and he was telling me that he loves the screen curtain, telling me that people asked him how they could use their iPhone’s with the screen turned off, and how they know what the hell they would be doing, etc. It’s sweet that he learned it, but I had other pressing matters to deal with. By 11:00 PM, I was attempting to get to sleep in bed. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up falling asleep until around one AM, give or take a few minutes.
I can recall waking up in the middle of the night, and something felt profoundly different. I heard screams. “Help! I’m blinded!” followed by a vehicle screeching and hitting something which made the car’s end, front or back, I can’t be sure which, smash. The impact of whatever object it hit, I imagine, sent that end inward, and the driver was probably thrown out of his or her vehicle, especially since, given the vehicle’s velocity, it sounded like the driver mashed the gas peddle in sheer panic.
But I look around, and there’s no light. It’s nothing. I pick up a book that I left on the nightstand. With utter shock, I notice I can no longer see letters. At all. I can read in the dark, so I should have no problem with such a simple task. I notice that I can’t see my walls. “It’s official,” I thought. “I’m blinded as well.”
I can’t get to sleep, yet again. This always happens. I can sleep well in the day, but I’m lucky if I can manage to sleep eight hours straight. actually, I’ll just come out and say it: that is impossible for me.
Perhaps this was a good time for me to wake up, as I was interested in the ongoing developments regarding current events. I got my answer soon enough. Squeeling, crashing cars. Multiple squealing, crashing cars. This cannot be good.
In an attempt to figure out if the country had lost power, i turned on my TV. Sure enough, nothing happened. Therefore, not only have we lost power, but there are multiple car crashes outside. I stormed out of my room and checked in on my mom. She was sound a sleep; I didn’t want to wake her up. I went back to my room then and used a police scanner radio I had just for times like this. When there was no power, surely police patrols would give news in the form of radio cals.
I found some rather shocking and disturbing news. The police force was down 15 percent because a good majority of this huge city appeared to have gone blind in the middle of the night, resulting in multiple vehicle crashes. One officer mentioned a downed tractor trailer, another mentioned a crashed delivery truck delivering carpet in transit, and apparently a 747 wreckage was spotted in pieces in the ocean. I’m not sure how far around the Earth this extends or if this is only in America, but I do know one thing: america will never be the same.