When it hit, it wasn’t like the movies, there were no zombies. It wasn’t World War III, and the attack itself was barely visible. The aftermath, however, was far worse than any Hollywood movie could ever portray. A weakened world economy paved the way for what would become known as worst rash of cyber terrorism in the history of the human race. With a crippling national deficit and costly military actions, coupled with a plummeting G.D.P. from the mass exodus of American jobs to foreign markets, the United States government couldn’t afford the best and brightest computer scientists anymore. Unfortunately for America, and the rest of the world, the ones who could afford the top minds in computer science were also the ones who wished to cause harm – to disrupt the free world, and use the power of technology to their own selfish ends.
Drug lords, terrorist groups, extremists – the people who made their money illegally had plenty of it. Shootings and bombings had suddenly become obsolete once the enemies of the free world acquired the power to attack and wreak havoc using computers. It started small enough; identity theft on a mass scale, attacks on credit card companies, border control databases, city surveillance, but then they crashed Wall Street. After that, things got worse and worse, government documents were stolen and sold on the black market, attacks were made on power grids and municipalities, the very infrastructure of America and major cities around the world were beginning to lose stability. By the time they began accessing military operational commands via the Pentagon mainframe, governments around the world had no choice but to take it all out and attempt to start over.
Without warning, the government detonated massive E.M.P. devices in every major city. America first, then most of Europe, Asia, and onward, each continent going dark, city by city, like falling dominoes. Within a week, there wasn’t a single inhabited area on the planet that hadn’t had its electronics fried by the devices. All of the technology, vehicles, and machines that relied on electricity had become nothing more than empty useless shells of a once prosperous and advanced society, and the world as it was known was completely and devastatingly changed.
Jason Jones was a man who paid attention. A veteran with twenty-two months of service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he was no stranger to the chaos and violence that existed in his fellow man, no stranger to the atrocities men were capable of when the conditions were right. As each day’s news reports poured in, telling of the continuing cyber attacks and growing instability around the country in the months leading up to what had been dubbed “Dark Dawn”, Jason knew better than to trust the talking heads and politicians who assured everyone that everything was under control.
He loved his country, and his countrymen, he’d proven that by earning his decorations in combat, including two silver stars for bravery, and the purple heart for taking three shards of shrapnel in his right leg from an I.E.D.. But he also loved his family, and knew that there could come a time when the systems in place to keep them safe would fail. It was this love for his two sons Jim and Dale, his wife Patricia and his young daughter Cathy that pushed Jason to prepare, to become self-reliant, to ignore the mutterings from his neighbors about paranoia and overzealous behavior and to plan for what he hoped would never happen.
He was at work on that steamy morning in early July when the E.M.P. device was detonated in the heart of downtown Chicago. His warehouse supply company’s headquarters, which occupied the fourteenth floor of one of Chicago’s smaller skyscrapers, was in a frenzy.
They’d been trying to respond to a lost shipment of forklifts that had been shipped but never received. Jason had suspected cyber terrorists and had put in a formal complaint with the Pentagon’s new cyber terrorist prosecution department, which was needless to say, unimaginably backlogged with thousands of similar requests from all over the country. All of a sudden there was a great sucking thud from outside, like a blast from a tuba, low and resonant and loud enough to shake the windows of the building. The entire office fell silent. The usual cluttering noise of ringing phones, clicking computer keyboards and whining printers was replaced by a haunting stillness in the wake of the echoing thud outside. The lights, the screens, cell phones, emergency systems, everything had gone dark.
In an instant, Jason recognized the onset of something much larger than a power grid failure. He ran to the window and looked out over the city, the intersections below were jammed with smashed vehicles, not a single car or truck or motorcycle moved, all the other office windows of the adjacent buildings were dark, no planes, no choppers, nothing. Nothing moved outside, except for the people exiting their cars and wandering around in confusion. Around him, his co-workers were cursing the utilities company, and wondering aloud what had happened to their cell phones, and how long it would be until they had the power back on. There was only one word in Jason’s mind as he gazed out over the mounting chaos on the streets below, “Bug-out.”
He turned, and headed for his office, but stopped half way, remembering that as the boss, he was responsible for his employee’s safety.
“Listen up people!” he shouted over the rising din of complaints, “I don’t believe we’re dealing with an ordinary situation here.”
The office fell deadly silent again as the fourteen employees all turned to face their boss with looks of concern in their eyes.
“I can’t say exactly what’s happened, but if you look out the window, it seems to be effecting far more than just our building.”
A few employees close to the window, looked out and gasped at the stopped traffic and gathering crowds.
“What’s going on?” asked Brenda, Jason’s sales team manager.
“Like I said,” Jason continued to address the crowd, “I’m not exactly sure what’s happening, but I know it’s big, so I’m shutting down the office and advising you all to get home immediately.” “What about our families, my cell phone’s dead, and I can’t reach my wife!” Chris, from accounting called out over the commotion brewing amongst the employees.
“Don’t you have a bug-out plan?” asked Jason. “A what?”
“A bug-out plan!” Jason repeated, “A set of protocol to follow in case of emergencies!” Jason couldn’t believe that he had to explain it.
“No…” Chris said softly, with a look of worry on his face.
“Okay, look,” Jason said to the agitated workers, “The most important thing you can do is to get home, and gather food and water, and secure your house.” Jason looked around the room at the astonishment and fear on the faces of his employees and knew that none of them had made bug-out plans, or had any idea what one was until the moment he’d explained it. He felt sorry for them, but it was too late now, he thought. Time is of the essence, and each minute wasted, the window for getting home safely could be closing. “Remember,” he said once more to the crowd, “Get home, gather food, water, and lock your doors.” It was the best advice he could give to the unprepared group of employees, but he knew there was so much more to be done. Even getting out of the city was going to be difficult, he thought, and I’m sure none of them are prepared for what’s to come.
“Good luck!” he said, and walked into his office and closed the door. He reached into the bottom drawer of his desk, and retrieved a compact Kevlar pack, light and durable, and packed to the brim with supplies. Jason pulled the drawstrings and riffled through his “Get Home Bag.” He pulled out a pair of hiking boots and set them on the desk. Reaching in again, he retrieved his folded map of downtown Chicago, one of the three bottles of water, and the small Beretta 9mm pistol. He double checked the rest of the gear before closing the bag – pry bar, medical supplies, a day and a half worth of freeze dried food, window punch, whistle, compass, long sleeve shirt, extra socks and underwear, and a pair of black tactical pants and two red bandanas. The noise outside the office had grown into an uproar as the employees grabbed their things preparing to leave, some still trying the phones in desperation.
Jason decided to change his clothes and shoes, and stuffed his work trousers, and dress shoes in the bag. He kept his white polo shirt on, stuffed the pistol into the back of his pants, pocketed the map and the small flashlight, then closed the bag again and tossed it on his back. As he ran down the stairs using the small flashlight to light his way, he decided it would be useless to try his car. Even if it was working, which he doubted after seeing all the cars on the streets below, the traffic backup would be impossible to get through. Others in the office building had already gathered in the lobby by the time he reached it. They were watching in dazed helplessness as police officers, some on horseback, were attempting to get people to stay in their vehicles. Without working radios to coordinate their efforts, they were just as lost and a part of the chaos as everyone else. Jason noticed that no one else in the lobby seemed to be prepared with a Get Home Bag, and he shook his head softly in wonderment. He thought to himself, Am I the only one prepared for this?
The noise outside was almost deafening, even without motors and beeps and all the other missing mechanical sounds of the city. People had begun to panic and the streets were filled with shouting and yelling and masses of people running around without a clue as to where to go or what to do. Keep cool, Jason told himself, you’re prepared to handle this, you have a plan. He watched a family, a dad and mom and two young children, duck into a store entrance to escape the herd of people stampeding up and down the avenue. The girls were crying and the mother clung to the man’s arm, but he was as wide eyed and helpless looking as the people in the lobby. The sight of them made him think of Patricia, and his own children. Thank God we made a plan, he thought to himself. The boys would have been at school by this point, he thought, which, luckily, was towards the outskirts of the city. They each kept a GHB in their lockers, minus the pistol of course, and they knew to get home immediately, and begin preparing the house for lockdown. Patricia was at home that morning taking care of their 5- year-old daughter Cathy, who had been running a fever the night before.
Patricia, if she was aware of what was happening, would be preparing the bug-out-bags at that very moment. Jason smiled, proud of the peace of mind being prepared was bringing him, he jogged confidently around the corner in the direction of home, but what lay before him wiped the smile clean off his face.
They’ve already started looting? He thought, a little surprised, It seems a bit early. The street Jason stood on was lined with bodegas and restaurants, and a handful of convenient stores. All the windows were broken in and frenzied bodies were streaming in an out in a constant flow of madness, carrying bags and boxes and sometimes just handfuls of whatever they could grab. Jason was glad that their bug-out retreat, packs and house were well supplied with food, as he watched the carnivorous looting before him. He walked cautiously forward, aware that his pack made him a desirable target for the maniacal crowd who when whipped into such a fury, lost all sense of right and wrong. As he neared the first set of shops, he paused, there was a commotion flaring up in the middle of the street. Two men were shouting at each other, he couldn’t see them through all the people and stalled-out cars, but it didn’t sound pretty.
Jason stretched his head to try and catch a glimpse of what was going on, and as he did, three shots rang out. Pop! Pop! Pop! Screams erupted from the already terrified crowd and the people ducked and ran in every direction, some dropping the bags and boxes they had just stolen. Jason ducked out of view into an alley between two shops and kept his eyes trained on the streets, letting the chaos ensue, reaching back for his pistol. That’s when he felt a cold steel barrel press against the back of his neck.
“What’s in that fancy bag there buddy?” the gruff voice asked menacingly.
Jason Jones slowly raised his arms in the air at his sides as the barrel of the gun pressed harder against his skin.
Be sure to catch next week’s installment to see what happens to Jason Jones and the rest of the world gone mad in “The Aftermath”.
Michael Ulanski is a fiction writer and freelance journalist currently traveling and working in the Middle East. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he is working on a series of short stories entitled Maps of a Midwest Suburb, as well as maintaining a travel blog, and working on his first novel. He holds a masters degree in English Education and teaches writing to secondary students in the United Arab Emirates.