A slight glow filled the room from the monitor screens. The images were reflected in his glasses as he moved his head, first showing server data from Europe, than a live webcam feed from Hawaii. The monitors were mounted all the way to the ceiling and out to several feet beyond his desk. On the left wall, he paused at the report on DNS outages, then his eyes caught a change in the count of trusted systems versus untrusted. Over in the right side of his desk, at eye level, his gaze rested a video camera feed. The video showed a living room with a closed door. On the right side of the door there was a window with closed curtain behind a sofa. The scene was black and white, the result of the infrared mode for viewing. A few toys were scattered on the floor, and a turned off television in a cabinet on the wall on the left side of the door. A recliner with an afghan thrown over the back completed the homey scene, but Brian continued looking, face in a grimace as he watched.
He leaned forward and typed in commands on the keyboard directly in front of him. He used voice-motion for the other systems but for surveillance he always used old fashioned keyboards in order to be sure of the commands. As always, the subject, Deidre in this case, didn't know about the hidden cameras so he had to be careful of how he used them. They were made of the smallest microtech available but the slightest noise or light might be noticed. And Deidre knew about his methods of monitoring.
After typing a another command, the video camera feed rewound until he paused it as she walked into the room backwards. The time stamp showed that she had left the home, with her son Jake at 20:24 CST. More commands typed in and another camera view showed up on the system’s second monitor. The second display showed a view of a house through a windshield from a camera in a car dashboard. The video had a timestamp start of 20:28 and as he watched the car backed up and turned towards the street. He fast forwarded the video and noticed a stop to get the batteries charged at a local station. The car drove through an automated pump and he sped up the fast forward. The car pulled out after a ten minute charge and drove back to the street, a major thoroughfare for the neighborhood.
He slowed the video when he saw the car turn left and pull into a parking lot at 20:58. He could see the grocery store Deidre normally shopped at and a very full parking lot. The street lights and the full moon provided a brightly lit scene that didn’t require the infrared mode. After a few seconds the view went black when the car was shut off. He moved the mouse and activated the camera, it still showed the parking lot, full of people coming and going to their cars. After pulling up a list of archived video, he saw one from the morning and a quick glance showed that she had also been at the grocery store in the morning. She must have forgotten something and decided to go back. Based on the full parking lot she was probably still inside, either shopping or standing in line. He shook his head, worried that she was out when it was this close to the 2038 time. Things were probably safe enough but he thought he had taught her to stay safe with computers, especially with something like the 2038 bug. Her phone microphone could be activated but he decided he didn't want to use that unless he had to. Too much chance she would detect his tampering and switch phones, again.
Brian leaned back in the chair, hands behind his head, looking up at the ceiling. He took a few deep breaths, pushing down his worry about his daughter and grandson and gradually felt his heart slow. Slowly he lowered his arms, putting them on his legs as he sat forward. Looking around the room, he continued his deep breathing while noting all of his security. The metal shutters over the windows, the gun locker against the far wall, the fireplace for warmth, the dry wall covering the thick, concrete walls, all of the items had a purpose in protection against the elements or other people or both.
The only item that was non-functional was a picture on the fireplace. After a quick glance at his monitors, he stood up and walked to the mantle, stretching as he went. The picture showed his family, smiling for the camera. He didn’t remember why but Alison had talked him into a picnic one hot summer day and they had all gone, picking up a few sandwiches on the way there. In the picture they were sitting around a wooden picnic table, a ten year old Deidre, Alison, and a naïve stranger that was his younger self. Alison had asked someone else there to take a picture of them and here it was, a reminder of happier times. It was the only picture he had kept, as a memory of Alison and himself from some strange land called long ago. His eyes misted, then he turned around, pushing away his grief. Too many memories tonight, he needed to stay focused on business. As he sat down, part of him wondered what Alison would think if she were still alive, but his mind quickly refocused on the screens, putting the wall back in place between his memories and his work.
The wall of monitors continued to glow, the data continuing to pour in from all over the world. For most people the amount of data was overwhelming but the screens were old friends for him. He'd started off with programming after the first dotcom boom and bust and found he had a talent for assessing and making sense of data. Eventually he focused on security and started consulting for the USA Department of Defense and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Searching for software vulnerabilities, finding the hacks, monitoring networks, all of that was a puzzle that fascinated him.
As the clock displayed "21:10", he glanced over the other screens. Everything still showed normal, with one blip over in Australia. He focused on the screen and watched as the data line moved back into the normal pattern. Probably a dropped packet, he thought as the data continued to feed in.
Wi8thout thinking, his eyes drifted over the monitor with the images of the darkened living room and car camera. The camera screens still showed the same scene and part of him worried about Deidre and how she was doing. It had hurt when she left home even though he knew she couldn't stay hidden away with him forever. After Alison's death and his guilt for not being there, he had moved to the country and created this fortified home. He was determined to protect his daughter, but teenagers have their own minds and she left one fall day, vowing never to return. He could have forced her to come back but he knew she would leave again, so he had let her go, left only with his grief for his wife and now his daughter. Eventually he turned to his old solace for his grief, his computers and security. Consulting for the government paid his bills and allowed him to setup a net to monitor first Deidre and then her son, his grandson.
The clock continued changing, showing 21:11:43, the data sites still feeding in data. One monitor showed a drop from a server, he focused, watching the other networks in Europe, then shifted to another monitor when the server came back on-line. All normal activity, with occasional glitches, which automatically recovered. At least the cyberwars had sped up delivery of self-healing networks and systems which reduced network outages. There wasn't anything he could do to fix things but he was getting paid to watch for unusual activity. Too many lessons and secret attacks meant that the US government was wary of the 2038 bug being used as a cover for other, covert activities. The Treaty of 2032 was supposed to prevent cyberwars but he snorted as he remembered the skirmish of 2035 and 2036. Computers offered a level playing field for too many people who only wanted to sow chaos where they could.
Almost time, 21:13:36, less than a minute, then he could shut down and go to bed. However, he looked over the monitors of the dash cam and home video and frowned when he saw that Deidre was not in the car or at home yet. He almost pushed the button to activate the phone, but decided against it. He had already redone his monitoring on her phone twice in the last year and he knew the expense of a phone was a hardship for Deidre. If he pushed it this time she might decide to get a secure, trusted phone that would take him months to infiltrate. He shook his head, not worth it, things looked good at this point.
The clock displayed 21:14:01 and he silently counted down the next few seconds. When it reached 21:14:07, the lights seemed to dim, before coming back up to full power. He glanced at his displays, and then focused on the central display for the primary DNS. He cursed silently at the flat lines, then cursed more as he noticed most of the screens were showing flat lines. Even the monitor for the alternate internets and DNS servers showed flat lines. There were a few servers lit up, but they were exceptions.
He saw that the home cam and dash cam showed static. He moved to the keyboard, typed in commands but the screens stayed the same. Now he was worried about Deidre and wondering what had happened. After a second of thought and a flurry of typing, he pressed enter and waited for the phone microphone to activate. The audio stream window popped up, showed an hourglass, than an error message that there was no connection.
He pushed back from the desk, listening to see if a generator had started up. He had long life batteries but he also had backup generators as additional redundancy. There was no sound of the diesel powered generator so at least the electronics for the battery system still worked. Wondering if power was affected for other people, he decided to check outside, He got up, went over to a window and unlatched the shutter. As it rolled up, the light from the full moon was reflected on the few patches of snow still in his yard, otherwise it was complete darkness, which worried him. He should see the light from his closest neighbors, about ten miles away, and a glow from Tulsa, about thirty miles away, but the only light came from the moon and stars.
After closing the shutter and latching it, he walked over the front door. He threw the bolt and opened it up to his front porch. He stepped outside, into the below freezing air of the Oklahoma winter night. He could hear the wind moaning through the trees and shivered as it cut through him, even in the protected area of his porch. He look around and saw no glow just stars and some clouds moving through the night sky.
He walked back in, closed the door and bolted it before walking back into the house. There was a bedroom on the side of the living room where he kept his ham radio setup. He had two radios and he tried turning on the newer one first. He frowned when nothing happened and flipped the switch on the older model. Fortunately, his old one from his father still worked so he sat down in front of it, looking at the display. He picked up the microphone, pressed the button and said and said "CQ, CQ, CQ, This is Whiskey, zero Foxtrot, Golf, Papa, W0FGP, calling CQ and waiting for a call."
He released the button and listened to the static. After a minute with no response, he tried again, "CQ, CQ, CQ, This is Whiskey, zero Foxtrot, Golf, Papa, W0FGP, calling CQ and waiting for a call." After a few seconds, he could faintly hear "W0FGPV, this is W5RSC calling"
"W5RSC, this is W0FGPV, Thanks for your call your signal is 59. My name is Brian and my QTH is Tulsa. So how do you copy? W5RSC, this is W0FGPV, over.
"W0FGPV, this is W5RSC, Des Moines, Iowa, over."
"W5RSC, this W0FGPV. Brian Davis, here in Tulsa, internet is not fully operational and power appears to be down, trying to find out information. W0FGPV, over."
"W0FGPV, W5RSC here. This is Wayne, in Des Moines, power also appears to be out in the area, also trying to find out information. W5RSC over."
Brian let go, glad he had heard from Wayne that he was okay. He had several friends that he contacted who also believed in having backups. But there were a lot more people who didn’t check in, which added to his unease.
The calls continued to come, from around the US and other parts of the world. When he heard the call sign from Boulder asking for status, he responded. While he wasn't friends with Marie, he stayed in contact for professional reasons. It was reassuring to hear that she was also on-line but he wasn't too surprised. Reports continued, and all of them reported power out, not just in the US but worldwide. His unease grew deeper and he hated that Deidre was so far away in California. He wanted to protect her even though she wanted nothing to do with him.
In the background he heard Marie organizing things, which made him smile. A natural organizer, even if the world was ending. His smile went away, this was probably just a glitch, but he knew that things could get bad. A little later, Marie signed off saying that she would check back in eight hours to see if utility companies restored power and where it was brought back up. He signed off and turned the radio off. When he got up, he went into the kitchen and opened the large pantry that was next to a walk-in freezer. As he walked around the pantry he reviewed his checklist of supplies, including power and wood for heating. He had enough for a month, but he knew from experience that other bad things could happen. Right now, without additional data, he assumed the current situation was a glitch caused by the 2038 bug with infrastructure but he knew it could also be an attack. And if it was an attack, who knew what might happen then?
After looking over the items in the kitchen and satisfying himself of his situation, he walked back to the living room and the glow of his monitors. Normally he left them on, but decided it would be best to turn them off for the night. If power wasn’t restored soon, he wanted to extend his batteries as long as possible and right now they were the equivalent of door stops with no data connection to any of the nets. As he shut down the various systems, he paused before turning off the system he used to keep an eye out for Deidre, than turned it off too. The home monitoring system was left on and he made sure the sound alarm was set to a volume that would wake him in case of attempted break-ins during the night. His other protections for the farm would probably keep most people out but he knew better than to rely on that. With one last look at the dark wall, he turned and walked back to his bedroom. After getting ready for bed, he laid down on the single bed in the spare room. As he turned the light off, he thought of Deidre and worried about how he could check on her safety. If power and the internet were still out in the morning, he would start figuring out how to help her no matter what it took. As he fell asleep, his thoughts drifted to that far off summer day, with his Alison and Deidre, when both of them were safe and still alive. A smile crept on his face and his sleep turned into dreams of that long ago time.