Blackout

Until a few days ago I wrote two or three blog entries each week. Five days after everything went dead and I’ve decided to start doing it the old fashioned way; with a pen and paper. Here’s the story so far.

It was after midday when the world stopped. At first I thought it was the house transmitter that had broken; not a frequent occurrence, but I’ve heard it happen to a few people. Of course the moment I checked it was clear what the problem was: there was no feed coming from the satellite.

I tried the most obvious solution; turning it off and back on again. When this had no effect I ran through the diagnostics. All it showed was that everything was working fine; there were six days of power in the battery, and no sign of life from the orbiting transmitter. Apparently it wasn’t a problem with my kit, merely the fact that there was nothing being sent from up there in space.

I was starting to get curious. The power grid going down was an unheard of event. Even back in 2047 when the big solar flares hit and everyone ran around like it was the end of the world, the system held up fine. Nothing got overloaded and nothing burst into flames. Still, if something had gone wrong it would be pretty big news. I pulled the large screen out on my phone and flipped it onto my net dashboard; it showed an error. Two minutes of checking and I had learnt enough to realise this wasn’t a problem at my end either.

By now my mind was working overtime. No power transmissions to me, none to the local net uplink stations. I walked back into the house and wondered how I was going to find out what was happening.

Very few of my neighbours would be in, so knocking on doors was pointless and without a connection to the net I had no access to news streams. I decided worrying wasn’t going to help and so went back to painting. It would probably all be up and running by the time I’d sketched the next piece.

Three hours later I checked on one of the house screens: nothing. It was four in the afternoon, kids would be back from school. I decided to take a walk and find out what others knew.

The trip turned out to be pointless. It wasn’t just our area where the power had gone down. Apparently people who’d come across from the other side of the bay has seen the same thing. Everything with a battery was still working but there was no way of charging. A few had called in on the local government offices and got nothing because there was nothing to tell.

That night I eat a salad because it was all I had that didn’t need reheating. I jokingly considered it a good way to start my diet.

The morning was a lot more relaxed than normal. There was nothing to read or watch, no debates to join in with and no mail to answer. I drank cold coffee and went for my usual jog. It took longer than usual as I stopped to chat to people. No one had anything to report. One power company engineer told me it was affecting the whole country. That day I doubted him, now I wonder if it’s the world, not just America that is suffering.

Three days of pretending it was all going to be fine was enough for me. The party on the second night was fun; people out on their front lawns with lanterns and barbeques making the most of not having to go into work the next day, but by day four cold food and uncertainty had started to wear us all down.

A few of us gathered to make a plan. Food runs seemed sensible. Someone pointed out water was going to dry up at some point. We got others on the road involved and formed teams, taking five cars so we could conserve power. Some of us were more successful than others, but enough supplies were gained to last us another week.

What those who’d gone out had seen was the most terrifying bit. It wasn’t that there were riots or armed police everywhere, but the tensions were starting to show. Society was being held together by a very thin thread and soon people would start defending what they had. Fear flittered at the back of every pair of eyes.

The worst thing is we don’t have any news. All of us have grown up in a world of information. We’re used to being able to get what we want with the tap of a finger or a spoken command. Now we are in the dark both literally and metaphorically.

A five day camping trip with your phone turned off is fun. Not knowing if you’ll ever come out of the woods is a frightening prospect.

—————

15 April 2010
The risks posed by a large cloud of volcanic ash have caused plane flights across Europe to be halted stranding people in far flung places and bringing business to a shuddering stop.

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