Welcome to Flash Friday! In these posts, I take a writing prompt and whip out a short story off-the-cuff with little editing. If you have an idea for a writing prompt, send me an email, and maybe I’ll use yours next time!
Today’s prompt is: The End of Technology
The voices are babbling again.
“Jjadelover, did you hear the latest?” That is pynkcamoh, my best friend in the whole net. Her thoughts cut through the babble surrounding me.
I stop the latest Jurious episode and think a reply. “Are you still on about that crazy reality game?”
“It isn’t a game,” pynkcamoh insists. Her thoughts are tainted with annoyance. “Haven’t you been listening to the net?”
“What kind of question is that?” I wave a hand at the holograms around me, rewinding the vidnet episode so I can watch Tal try to kiss Mia again, just before she slaps his face.
“I just mean, it’s all over the net. Scientists are saying this is the end.”
“The end? The end of what, the latest season of Jurious?” I snort a laugh at my own joke, but it doesn’t translate well onto the net and comes out more of a croak.
Now pynkcamoh is angry. I can sense it in her thoughts. “Fine. Make fun of it, if you want, but when you’re by yourself, don’t come weedling to me.”
By myself? I start to ask what in web’s name she’s talking about, but realize she’s gone, her thoughts floating back into the bubble of thoughts that ebb and flow inside my head, like waves on the oceancam.
No longer in the mood for Jurious, I crawl out of the holo/entertainmentsack and make my way to the refreshment console. Mom’s handle indicates she’s in a holomeet. I think about zooming in on her conversation, just to be annoying, but decide I’m not in the mood for a lecture today.
I punch in an order for a burrito and wait for the bot to deliver it while idly flipping through net conversations in my head.
“And then I said to her, ‘lady you got some kind of nerve…’”
“…if he’d just say he’d love me, then I’d be happy…” Lovey dovey talk. Eeww.
“…high score. I’d like to see you try…”
“…is the best Kung Pao I’ve ever tasted. You’ve got to try…”
“…announced today that a flare is imminent.”
This last byte sounds like what pynkcamoh was talking about. I zoom in on the conversation.
“You can’t be serious. A solar flare? What’s it supposed to do, fry us all to bacon crisp?” I recognize the handle on the thought.
“Hey, primo6,” I think. “What’s all the fuss about?”
“Hey there, Jjadelover. What’s your take on this solar flare business?”
“I haven’t looked into it much. Been too busy surfing the latest Jurious reruns.”
A handle I hadn’t met before, SonoraArora chimes in. “Are you kidding me, man? It’s all over the net. You’d have to be brain dead not to be up on this stuff.”
I bristle at the remark. “I’m not brain dead,” I huff. “Just preoccupied.”
Primo6 thinks, “Look it up for yourself. Some hot shot scientists announced the flare this morning. Personally, I think it’s all a load of hooey.”
“Yeah,” I chime in. “Just some new reality game they’re trying to get everyone to buy into. Maybe I’ll look into it, if I have enough credits. Could be fun.”
“It won’t be fun at all,” SonoraArora’s thought is angry. “They’re saying the flare might knock out parts of the net, maybe even the electricity in a couple of houses. I’m packing away food in the basement and hunkering down.”
“Knock yourself out,” Primo6 retorts.
The bot rings that my burrito is done. “Later, guys,” I think, flying away from their conversation and letting the net buzz quietly around my brain.
I grab my burrito and crawl back into my pod.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” Mom’s thought interrupts me. “You haven’t done your math assignment yet.”
“Aww, Mom!” I complain. “I’m just sitting down to lunch.”
“I don’t want to see you tuning into Jurious until after you’re done,” she retorts. “Remember, I’ll be watching.”
“I stare at my burrito, suddenly losing my appetite. “Mom,” I think, “have you heard anything about some solar flare thing on the net?”
“What, that crack pot scientist reality game? Don’t start experiencing that either, young man. You’re almost out of credits, and you still owe me for that game you bought last week. Oh, there’s ThedLi3. I have another holomeet this afternoon, so don’t interrupt, got it?”
“Yeah,” I think with sudden relief.
“My meet will not keep me from keeping tabs on you,” she warns as a parting shot.
“Yeah, yeah,” I repeat as I plop back down into the pod.
Mom thinks it’s a game too, so there’s nothing to worry about. Still, I search for everything I can find on solar flares as I take a bite of burrito. There’s a lot, with pictures and videos and everything. And now that I’m paying attention to the net buzz, lots of people are chatting about it.
I pull up the announcement the scientists supposedly made this morning.
Two figures spring into life on the holovid. Both are old guys, one a news reporter wearing an outrageous tie, the other the typical doddering scientist, complete with grey hair, glasses, tacky sports jacket and all. Yep. Definitely a game.
“Dr. Windrus,” says the reporter, “thank you for joining us today. We’re hearing disturbing reports all over the net about a flare from the sun that has the potential to disturb communications in our area. Tell, us, what is the validity of these reports?”
Dr. Windrus squirms in his seat, like he just ate a sour grape. The guy’s a good actor, I’ll give him that. “The sun often emits flares of energy that travel to Earth. Usually, this energy is dispersed around the atmosphere, but our atmosphere has become threatened with global warming. My team monitors these flares, and we feel reasonably sure that the sun is building a massive flare that will occur later today sometime. Because of the high energy punch packed into this flare, coupled with the weakened atmosphere around the Earth, we believe the flare could potentially cause certain parts of the net to black out.”
The reporter gives a nervous laugh, looking out at the audience as if to confirm his suspicions that Dr. Windrus is nuts. “But the net has never gone down before,” he says.
“The flare also has the potential to black out electrical circuits in some parts of the country,” Dr. Windrus says. He looks even more nervous than the reporter.
“Even if what you say is possible—“ the reporter starts.
“Oh, it’s possible,” Dr. Windrus interrupts.
“As you say,” the reporter acknowledges. “If this blackout happens, it will only be a matter of moments before the Power Mill gets the system back up and running, correct? I mean, the continent hasn’t had a power failure in over 100 years, thanks to new technologies.”
“That depends,” Dr. Windrus says, “on whether the government actually believes what we’re telling them.”
“So, you’re saying no one is taking you seriously?”
“No,” Dr. Windrus’ expression is grim and he turns to look into the camera, so it’s like his eyes are boring right into me. “Everyone seems to think this is some kind of hoax, or a game. But I assure you that if preparations are not made immediately, these blackouts could last for up to an hour, maybe even longer.”
I shiver. The guy is seriously creeping me out. I’m about to switch off the transmission when pynkcamoh pops in.
“I see you’re doing due diligence on the solar flare thing,” she thinks.
The reporter and Dr. Windrus continue the interview, but I ignore them and focus on pynkcamoh.
“You think this stuff is real?” I ask incredulously.
“Actually, I do.”
“Why? It looks totally fake to me.” I take another big bite of burrito, thinking at her while I chew. “I mean, look at that Dr. Windrus guy. Obviously somebody pulled his wardrobe straight out of the twenty first century. Then there’s this whole thing about ‘it’s gonna knock out the net.’ Pleeze! Nothing could ever knock out the net. The whole country would go haywire. They’re just trying to scare us.”
“OK, first off,” says pynkcamoh, “they’re not saying it will knock out the whole net. That would be ridiculous: it’s triple backed up by the Power Mill. They’re just saying parts of the net might go down, so a few voices might go silent, that’s all.”
I feel a cold chill. “You mean, you I might try to send you a thought, and you wouldn’t reply?”
Pynkcamoh sounds uncomfortable. “Maybe.”
I shake my head. “Totally bizarre. This is some trippy game you’re playing.”
She’s angry again. “It isn’t a game. Look, they even have a telescope feed set up so you can watch the flare.”
She sends me a holovid which replaces the interview of Dr. Windrus. The image shows the sun, sputtering and flaming in all its glory, looming big in the eye of the camera.
I finish off my burrito, totally confident now in my assessment of the situation. “I have two words for you, pynkcamoh,” I think. “Special effects.”
Suddenly, part of the glowing image around the sun rises up, like a flaming whip and lashes out at the blackness around it.
Pynkcamoh’s signal goes weak. “—believe, if you just…then you’ll be—“ the signal sputters in and out.
I shake my head. “This really is some trippy game, pynkcamoh. But my mom says I have to do homework, and she’s checking up on me, plus I’m out of credits for the week, so maybe I can get in on the action later.”
I push aside pynkcamoh’s thoughts, fuzzy as they are, back into the ebb and flow of the tide of thoughts around me. I can sense Mom out there, looking my way in the midst of her holomeet, so I dutifully pull up my math homework and start studying the problems my tutorbot assigned today.
But I only get partway through a quadratic triangle when the holo suddenly goes out.
It’s dark around me. Really dark. And then I realize it: the voices are gone. All that chatter, thoughts drifting constantly around me, nonsense and meaningful. It’s all gone. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced. I start to sweat. It’s like the air is pressing in around me, crushing me. I can’t breathe.
I get up out of the pod and stumble forward.
“Mom?” I think. “pynkcamoh?” There’s no answer. I’m alone. Alone in the dark.
I start to shake. How long did Dr. Windrus say this would last? A few moments? More? No. The reporter said it would only last a few moments. Dr. Windrus said it might be as much as an hour. How long was that? An episode’s worth of Jurious? I shake harder.
The silence is pressing in on me, crushing my lungs. “Pynkcamoh?” I think. “Primo6? SonoraArora?” Nobody answers.
Then I hear something else, but it isn’t coming over the net. It’s coming through my real ears. I rip off the netset covering my head and stumble to what I hope is the door of my pod. There it is again: a thumping sound. My heart is pounding. Something or someone is coming this way. If this is a game, it’s the best reality game anybody’s ever created.
Then something touches my arm, grabs me, squeezes hard, and I scream. Not with the thought of horror, as I’ve always screamed before, but with my real throat: a sound ripping out of me, tearing at my throat and causing pain there, rising into the darkness and shattering the silence that has me in its grip.
“It’s okay,” says a voice, rusty from disuse. “It’s just me.”
It takes a few minutes for me to remember how to form words with my lips. “Who are you?” I croak.
“I’m your mother.”