Crashland – Chapter One

“Gentlemen and ladies. Might I suggest that the real opportunity here is to bleed them a little. As long as they continue to hemorrhage funds, we can expect a better deal in the long run.”

“Which would affect us once we choose to buy in.”

“Then the issue is one of timing. Bringing the price for our cooperation down, but not so far as to affect our bottom line.”

“In which case –”

“We wait, for at least another thirty-six hours. Then we will make our offer.”

“Easily done, we can just say we’re exploring all options.”

“Good to let them wait for awhile. Let them sweat it out a little.”

“I’ll say!”

The faces hung before him like jeweled windows. Handcrafted pains of stained glass that seemed to speak and interact. Adjusting himself ever so slightly, Holden leaned back into the holds of his dark leather chair and let the outside light bathe him for just a moment. Already his executives, connected to him courtesy of the escritoire’s conference display and the companies global network, had explored all the salient points. At this point, there was nothing left to do but give the executive decision. But as Jonas had said, it was always good to make them a wait a little. It let them know who was in charge.

“Patterson,” he said, issuing an order to one of the screens. “Issue our reply to their corporate office in Beijing. Word it exactly as we said, be sure to include the requisite bit about how the East Asian Cooperative’s economy is still a tad shaky for our concerns. The more they are convinced that we might be looking into Singapore or Jakarta, the better. Mr. Banks,” he said next, addressing another. “Put out some feelers to our friends in Shanghai. See if they can’t apply some pressure to the government to throw in some green initiatives, split cost of course.”

“How split?” he asked knowingly.

“Fifty-fifty,” Holden replied. “No sense in sticking it to them too hard. In the meantime, I’m sure we will all monitor the performance of the EASTX and Nikkei very closely. Any dip is sure to be accompanied by a better offer.”

“Well said, sir,” they said in unison.

“Excellent, is there any other business?”

“Well, sir,” Mansfield said from her post in Brussels. “There are rumors that Sixthsense will be testing their quantum processor again this month. Our sources say that the engineers have made great progress. Perhaps this is it.”

Holden smiled. If at last they were close to a breakthrough, all the legal maneuverings of the past year might finally pay off. All the money, favors and pressure he and his various employees had had to apply in order to get the patents for the new quantum processor in their pockets. Singularity would be that much closer to its ultimate goal, being at the center of it all!

“Keep an eye on it,” he said calmly. No sense in getting excited about something that was just the subject of rumor. Mansfield nodded to him and waited patiently for him to continue.

“If that’s all from East Asia and the EU, might I suggest we discuss our holdings in –”

“Mr. Holden!” a new voice echoed in his ear. High in his field of vision, a red alert tab was blaring loudly. “Will you all excuse me for just a moment?” He twitched his eye to activate the tab, a fresh young face with embedded wetware replaced the faces of his overseas executives in front of him. Though their eyes were completely covered by a multiple HUD’s, he could see the panic in their face.

“Tech support?” he said incredulously. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Sir,” he said breathlessly. “Something’s wrong with the network sir.”

He would have laughed had the tech not brought this to his attention so abruptly, cutting him off in the middle of a meeting.

“What is it, son? A bug in the transmitter? Solar flare activity? Something else you are paid to deal with without bothering me?”

“No, sir!” the boy replied. “Financials has gone down. They reported no input from our feeds in Rio, London, or Tokyo. All other financial centers are going dark, one by one.”

Holden bristled. Now this was something new, and perhaps outside of his area of expertise. “What do you mean? Our connections are being cut?”

The possibility of corporate sabotage immediately flashed through his mind, as did a potential list of culprits. Everyone knew those bastards over at BM-Fullerenes had never quite recovered from their recent legal battle. But then again, those developers from the nanonurse project who had been released in the last round of redundancies. They had cried bloody murder as well…

“No, sir,” the tech replied. “We’ve checked and it seems that other networks are having the same trouble. It’s as if the problem is happening at the source.”

Holden now felt incredibly cold. So it wasn’t a mere connectivity problem on their end? The exchanges themselves were actually going down? How could that be?

“Have you run a diagnostic on our network?”

“Yes, sir.” He paused, his face turning a shade of extra-pale. “Our people began running tests on the bahn and every network we have access to shortly after the problem seemed to be moving beyond the East Asian Cooperative. We detected what looked like a routine maintenance program, but it wasn’t being mounted at the source. It seemed to originate somewhere from inside the BosWash, then began hopping from network to network, shutting everything down in it’s path.”

“Oh my God,” Holden breathed. The tech continued….

“It seems to be convincing all networks it hits that its an internal diagnostic, which immediately convinces its local servers to being going offline, but then doubles back to make sure they can’t reactivate. It’s hit Asia, South America, Africa, ands seems to be mov – m- ing-”

The image cycled a few times then cut out. Holden’s visual field was now empty, save for the command prompts at the top of HUD. Reaching to console on his escritoire, he began punching for the connect button, trying to get the young man back.

“Tech Support? Tech Support, can you hear me?”

Nothing. He began hitting the key for Company Central Directory. If the people he paid good money to stay in contact with were unable to reach him, perhaps the company AI might still be of use. He hit the key several times and waited for her cool, digital image to appear.

“Condie? Condie, can you hear me?” Again, nothing. He persisted. “What’s going out there, Condie? Talk to me!”

Holden took a deep breath. He spun around and stood from his chair. Through the window, he could see the skyline of the BosWash beginning to fade. His heart sank as a terrible feeling unlike anything he had ever felt before crept up on him. Out there, in the streets of the largest megapolis the world had ever known, a million glittering lights were slowly winking out. Office buildings, street lights, and even vehicles that sped back and forth. Bit by bit, the culmination of so much industriousness and progress, all shutting off.

Outside his doors, he could another commotion happening too. In their office spaces, the employees who shared this floor with him were also realizing that something was terribly wrong. But unlike him, they were not privy to any explanations. From their point of view, their own escritoires were going down, their internal service providers were showing no service. At the moment, he could only guess as to their bewilderment and confusion. But as soon as they venture to a window, of if he were foolish enough to tell them what he knew, that feeling would quickly transform into panic.

He drew in another breath, much shorter this time. His legs had grown cold and stiff amidst the feeling that had gripped his heart. He knew now what the growing sensation was. For the first time in his life, he was totally and completely out of control…

“Marta! Please pick up! Marta!” Even his chat function was down. He could see the interface before him, had even made sure he was in a booth provider so he would have access to a hardline. But he still wasn’t getting through. Just a standby signal, as if the telecommunications grid had gone down as well.

“Marta! If you can hear me, get the kids, get yourselves home and stay there! It’s not safe out here anymore! MARTA!”

It was no use. No matter how loud he yelled or where he did it from, he was no effectively cut off. Wherever Marta was, wherever their children were, they were no doubt experiencing the same. He tried to entertain the possibility that they might not have been effected yet up in Albany, but he knew this to be a fool’s hope. Whatever the hell this was, it had overtaken the Eastern Seaboard and most of the world. The only places that might be unaffected were those stuck in the previous century. For once, he envied those places.

Sliding the booth’s doors open, he peaked outside and cast a wary glance around the street. The gunmetal felt cold in his pocket, its primitive contours the only reassurance he had at the moment. He stepped out in the cold blackness of night, the faint glints of city lights closer to the interior were the only thing to see clearly by. He sets his eyes to their orange glow on the horizon, wondering how it was that they had not gone down yet. Was it possible that there were still some city grids that weren’t on the central power network? Or could it be there were some backup generators online? Either way, he needed to get to them. If there were emergency teams out amidst the growing gloom, he needed to find them.

He passed a few crashed vehicles, their owners having abandoned them long ago when they realized that no police, emergency or tow services would ever come. Like them, their GPS units and smartdrive functions had crashed with everything else. If they weren’t parked into the side of a road somewhere, they were sitting idly in their lots and garages. He could imagine what the smarthighways looked like right now. With the amount of automated traffic it carried, even this late in the day, there was sure to be massive pileups. Thousands of people, injured, dying, or stranded, unable to get help. Without the power down and no one to take control of the situation.

He stopped again. His breath was running short. His heart sank once again as he realized his medimachines must be non-functional as well. Without their help, he wouldn’t be able to maintain a strong sprint anymore. His body would be forced to metabolize oxygen at a normal rate for a man his age. He shook his head as several obvious thoughts ran through his mind:

Who had done this? How had they done it? Why the hell would they do it?

A small disturbance to his fore caught his attention and he looked up. There, at the end of the street, three silhouettes were moving about. He squinted and hunched down, hoping to minimize his profile. He continued to watch, trying to discern if they had seen him yet and were moving in his direction.

In the dark of night, instincts he had never used before seemed to be taking over. He put his hand into his jacket pocket again, felt the reassuring sting of the cold metal there. He instinctively drew himself up slightly when he noticed that they were indeed moving in his direction. More than that, they were moving with a purpose…

There were three of them, and something else moving in the shadows somewhere to the side. Dark creatures who had descended on the city like scavengers to a fresh corpse. His hand went to the cold metal in his jacket. He drew a final breath, and prepared for the end…

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