The Curse of Klaatu

(Flash fiction)

My breakfast bagel and I squeeze from the elevator past a guy on a gurney when the fluorescent lights flicker and go dark. Wondering when the emergency generator will kick in, I consult my watch. It’s now 0817. Code Green Time.

Part way down the corridor, Mrs. Sewall from 511 hails me to empty her bedpan, complaining her TV is on the fritz as I rearrange her emaciated limbs. At the nurses’ station, Rachel informs a knot of powder-blue caregivers that her PC and phone are down, so check your mobiles. My screen swims with abstract expressionist art and, in fact, all our devices are dysfunctional in some special way. Harry the oncology resident, woozily roused from his power nap, holds up his old flip phone. Still works, he reports, but no bars.

Alicia has fetched a clock radio from a patient’s room that miraculously had a working backup battery. We stand by as she twirls the dial for sounds of intelligent life. There is but one, some guy saying “… Repeat: The blackout covers a broad swath across the Eastern half of the country. We have no indication of foul play or enemy attack. Technicians are working to restore services as quickly as possible. Stay tuned to this station for updates.

Our Chief Resident barks marching orders. I am to round up portable respirators and haul them to the ICU. On my way I stop by the solarium, half full of patients variously staring at magazines, blank screens or air molecules. From my elevated vantage, the cityscape looks normal but for odd knots of pedestrians on State Street. Across the way, people queued up at Krogers aren’t being let in. Street traffic is at a standstill. Drivers are loitering by their vehicles. What could have halted them all in their tracks?

Then comes a motorist slaloming a 60s-vintage Ford pickup around disabled cars, stopping to let people clamber on, third-world style. How come that clunker still works? Aha! methinks. No Intel inside to conk out. What brought on this standstill was likely a solar flare, a ginormous magnetic pulse that clobbered cars, phones, computers and power plants. Perhaps even airplanes. Oh the humanity!

What will we do without electrons? At least we still have books. If we’re not constantly fighting and foraging we’ll have time to read them. Klaatu barada nikto, I mumble as I trudge back to work.

 

This story also is posted on The Story Hall, a publication at medium.com.

Helpful Hashtags 4 Men

Hey guys, it’s getting dangerous to be a man especially if your name is in wide circulation. Look at all those media makhers going down. So what about the rest of us blokes who don’t figure in People Magazine or have six-figure incomes? We might not get national attention for alleged conquests but our reputations could easily be besmirched too. And it’s most likely to happen on that most public of social media, Twitter. It’s time to get proactive, @VulnerableDudes.

Continue reading “Helpful Hashtags 4 Men”

Catch of the Day

Flash fiction from a while ago, refurbished and scanned for malware

As usual, Max was working late. Not so usual for the pair of quality engineers who had invaded his cubicle, waiting to be noticed. “Earth to Max,” one of them finally annouced.

       “Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said,” he murmured, looking up from his tablet. His glasses were fogged from running through thickets of text and chasing after hyperlinks as he panned his face over to his two coworkers. His complexion seemed paler than usual.
       “I was trying to finger an entity that entered our room,” he said by way of an excuse. “Some of us think it’s an NSA droid.”
       His tone was hushed even though they were alone on the floor. Lakshmi asked “How can you tell it’s an agent, and how do you know it’s NSA?”
       Max glanced back to his screen. “It fits a profile, the way it insinuates itself. MrEd ID’ed it as the type that showed up in May trolling for Wikileaks sources.”
       Rob reiterated. “Anyway, I asked you how the tests were coming along. We need to validate the release tonight.”
       “It’ll happen. But this thing that barged into the chat room calling itself SkyRocket spooks me. Has to be disposed of.”
       “You’re sure?” Lakshmi asked, eyes imploring. “Can’t it wait?”
       “For what?” Max snapped back. “For them to bust us before we finish collecting evidence from the agency?”
       “About…?”
       “Can’t go there, Lakshmi. You know that. Just assume it involves the surveillance state peeking up your address.”
       Lakshmi sighed. “Okay, okay. We know you hack for freedom, but must you handle this thing now? We only have twelve hours to wrap testing and upload the release, you know.” Her fingers drummed out Helter Skelter on Max’s desk.
       Max was adamant. “Somebody needs to fire off Skyrocket, and I think I know how.” He punched some keys, stuffed his tablet into his backpack, and struggled up, his chair and his limbs creaking in unison. “Gotta go. Back in a few hours to mop up.”
       “Where are you going?” Rob asked. “Home?”
       “Norway, actually” was Max’s reply. “TTFN.”
       They stared after Max as he padded down the corridor. They had dropped by his cube to dope-slap him back to work. It hadn’t worked.
       Rob growled “I guess we gotta run his test code, if we can figure out how. Let’s hope it doesn’t find too many bugs.”

Max hurried through the parking lot to his car, unholstering his cell phone to dash off a message. When a response beeped he cranked the engine and lurched onto the highway. Fifty minutes later his wheels were two counties away. His mind was elsewhere, but the GPS kept him on course.

At daybreak, Lakshmi and Rob were still in his cubicle sorting through test logs when Max waddled in clutching a coffee cup.
       “How was Norway?” inquired Lakshmi. “Catch any fish?”
       “Big ones,” Max purred through a yawn.
       “Cut bait,” Rob demanded. “Where did you really go?”
       “I needed to visit a friend of mine. He has this really obscure tap into the Net. I couldn’t risk using my connection.”
       Lakshmi tossed her hair. “In Norway, right?”
       “No, but the proxy server we hooked into is, and it spoofed an IP address for us inside the FBI.”
       “Then what?”
       “So I suckered Skyrocket into a private chat room and told him Israel was collecting certain stuff they had no need to know and offered a few tidbits. When they analyze what went down between us, NSA will see Skyrocket debriefing some rogue FBI agent. Just a little red herring to keep them off balance until we’re ready to reveal all.”
       Creaking into his seat, Max continued, “Now let me run the other tests you should have done while you go fix whatever bugs you found.” Max—or at least his body—was back.