WILL SEE – THE PARTY
Albany, New York State, USA
January 1, 2000 – 12:00am
82-year-old Gerald Owens was still up. He had been waiting for the arrival of the year 2000 for many years. A former aeronautical engineer, he hoped that mankind would be able to travel into space on a daily basis within his lifetime. Although fascinated with the current Shuttle program, he was somewhat saddened that we had still not got more than a few people into space at a time, and at that, only a few times each year. With his phone on his lap, he sat on his bed accepting good wishes from his daughter in San Francisco. He wasn’t well enough to travel and had refused to let family visit him, just wanting to spend the time alone and allow them to enjoy the festivities with their younger friends.
‘Are you keeping well?’, she asked. ‘Yes, yes. Just fine. Mrs. Lee keeps asking after you, you know? Once all this is over, come on over and stay.’ Said the slightly shaky Owens.
‘I would love that. You know Paul loves to be with you and go fishing.’ Said Stephanie Owens.
‘He must be pretty tall now. What grade is he i…’
‘… Stephanie., honey, something’s happening outside. I think they are having a really big fireworks display somewhere. There was a really bright flash. Hang on, while I walk to the window. No!, it’s not fireworks. Stephanie., it’s a bomb! There’s a mushroom cloud in the distance. I think it is New York! Oh Stephanie., it’s happened. We’re at war! The goddamn Ruskies or Chinese took us by surprise’.
‘Grandpa, what do you mean? Oh my, I just looked at the TV and the picture from New York just went out. Oh my god, No!, Auntie Carol is there. Switch on your TV Grandpa. Stay inside, there may be radiation or something. The wind could blow it to Albany. Oh god this is terrible.’
‘Honey, Honey! I will be OK. I’ll just stay ins…’ A loud ‘phut’ signaled that the line had gone dead. A deep rumble shook the house.
Owens had no intention of staying inside. His inquisitive nature would put rest to that. He returned the phone handset to its cradle and stumbled outside into the wide street where other residents were already arriving in droves. Many staring in awe with their hands clutched to their faces or around friends and relatives as they reacted in horror to the sight on the horizon. A huge glowing mushroom cloud extended as high as the eye could see. It was so bright in the darkness, the beautiful colors awe inspiring, despite their deadly motive. The glow lit up the area like an exaggerated full moon, casting moving ultra-black shadows across the streets. Some people covered their eyes for fear of blindness, although most had been spared the effects of the initial flash by being indoors at the time of detonation.
‘Oh Lord, no no no’, whispered Owens, thinking about his many friends and relatives living in the New York area. ‘Mr. Owens, come and stay with us’ suggested a concerned neighbor, knowing that Owens lived on his own.
Saturday January 1, 2000 – 5am GMT
At the dramatically restored docklands in London, England, thousands had remained outside the Millennium Dome in order to watch those in time zones farther to the west welcome in the new millennium. Just as the New York count down clocks reached 00:00:05, a glowing blue light flooded across the seething crowd as the latest in video technology detected the loss of signal and replaced it with an eye pleasing colorwash rather than an eyeful of irritating white noise. There was an immediate booing as the crowd grew frustrated at not being able to see their fellow revelers celebrate across the Atlantic.
‘Ladies and gentlemen…’ a voice echoed from the public address system. ‘We apologize, but due to technical difficulties there has been a loss of communication from New York. We imagine it is a satellite glitch, or one of the first millennium bugs!’ A slightly sarcastic laugh came from the crowd.
Louise Smith, a producer in BBC Television control truck No. 3 had been glancing across the large bank of small monitors that she used to select the most dramatic feed at any one time. A flash and brief second of a fireball caught the corner of her eye, but she wasn’t sure if it was what she saw. Smith punched the appropriate feed button to bring it up on the main monitor, but all she saw was static. The label below the feed monitor screen read ‘Budweiser Airship, Newark location’.
‘Robert, did you see that? I saw a fireball, I think. And we have lost the CBS feeds from New York.’
‘Oh yes. Try some other feeds, the people are going to get angry. How about the networks. Can we get NBC on the line and arrange something?’, replied Robert Gee, A BBC live broadcast director.
‘OK, I’ll try. Here goes.’
Smith picked up a telephone handset to her right and pressed a memory recall button direct to her affiliate on the East Coast. Silence and just the occasional pop or crackle on the line. ‘Mmm. Nothing Robert. I don’t like this. I think something’s happened. I’ll try ABC and FOX just to make sure.’ She dialed the other two US networks with the same response. ‘OK, I’ll try my friend Ruth at CNN in Denver.’ Again, Smith picked up the phone, shaking this time, and got through to CNN, but the line made the engaged sound before she finished dialing.
‘This is a satellite phone Mr. Gee, and yet it is engaged too.’
‘What’s on the Internet? Try CNN.com and see if through some miracle, the servers providing streaming video of the millennium events are still up.’, suggested Gee. Smith turned in her chair to a computer monitor on her left and used the keyboard to key in http://www.cnn.com, and a few other news site web addresses, but got a ‘SERVER ERROR’ error each time. ‘OK, the net is down, but then that’s nothing abnormal for an event this big. Remember Netaid?’
‘Ok Louise, my job is on the line here, I am going to catch a cab back to the office and see what is going on. I can’t even place a call to the bloody BBC down the road. This is a total disaster!’
Outside, the crowd was becoming increasingly angry. Hungover, and getting tired after having been up for nearly 10 hours in near frigid temperatures, some people had already tried using their mobile phones to call friends in New York to wish them well, but had also got busy tones. ‘I can’t get through to anywhere, not just Justin in New York’, shouted Stuart Rollin to his friends, who were being jostled about amongst another 100,000 people. ‘Well, that’s not surprising, you and another million people are all calling! Plus the millennium bug thing, don’t sound so surprised mate!’, responded one of Stuart’s friends.
‘Let’s walk and look at the San Francisco screen, they are still 3 hours away from their own celebrations,’, shouted one of Stuart’s friends. ‘Hmm, OK,’. The friends pushed through the crowds to get a better view of the other screens, which were still active, but the revelers in San Francisco looked startled and confused. They were looking upwards to their own video screens intensely, as if trying to make out something. Those looking carefully spotted one or two people clasping their hands to their faces. They had been looking at a distant view of New York from the Newark airship that had been broadcasting the first few seconds of the blast, before it was put out of action by the effects of electro magnetic pulse, and then knocked to the ground by the shockwave.
Pacific Stock Exchange, San Francisco
Friday December 31, 1999 – 8.59pm PST
When Tim Estrada arrived in San Francisco in 1991 to begin his career as a stock broker, the economy was in tatters and Silicon Valley 30 miles to the south was laying off thousands of people as the technology industry lost its way. His buddies had made a fortune working Wall Street in the booming 1980s, living the lifestyles of their parents while still in their mid-twenties. Some were now comfortably married with children living in large houses or condominiums in uptown New York – or the enticing Pacific Heights not far from where he now sat. Tim wanted the same and dreamed of buying a house overlooking his office.
After one or two years some of his workmates became disillusioned and quit – unable to handle the commissionless pressures of the stagnant early 90s economy. But Tim had stuck it through to reap the rewards of the Internet revolution that took the world by storm in 1995 after the introduction of the Mosaic web browser — which later became Netscape. Unlike his friends, he wasn’t going to rest on his laurels and party the night away at a time when most of the Western World’s wealth was going to be hanging by a thread, created by a simple lack of aforethought by a previous generation of software engineers or managers. Although most reports had claimed the so called Y2K bug had been dealt with, at least in the United States, Tim wasn’t going to believe it until he could still log onto his trading terminal and monitor the world’s stock values at one minute past midnight on January 1, 2000 through to closing on Monday January 3.
With one eye on the 14″ TV on his desk showing a live NBC broadcast from New York, and the other on the bank of flat panel trading screens in front of him, Tim slowly tapped away on the keyboard with the eraser end of his pencil. With the world’s stock markets closed for the weekend anyway, and of course, during the critical Y2K transition period, there was no activity, but Tim just wanted to feel comfortable. The rest of the room was empty although all the lights were on as part of the mayor’s program to use the city towers to illuminate San Francisco’s skyline over the holiday period. Outside, the edges of the other buildings were highlighted by thousands of light bulbs strung across their tops and vertical edges. The sight was awe inspiring, and yet somewhat ominous in it’s fragility.
As the countdown clock on the TV reached around three minutes to midnight, Tim Estrada opened the bottle of Scotch that had been patiently waiting for this moment for at least seven years. He slowly poured the glistening golden brown elixir into a small tumbler, leaned back in his chair, and took a sip. He let out a quiet gasp as the silky smooth liquid ran down his throat creating that familiar burning sensation. He had been in the office all night, and with all shops closed, was on an empty stomach. Within seconds, he was relaxed as he intended to be. Directly contravening California State law, he used his other hand to pull a cigarette from his shirt pocket, reached for the lighter in his trousers, lit up and took a long slow deep drag.
If there was one thing Tim had learned about work place pressure, it is that remaining cool in the heat of the moment is how the tough survive. He normally, would go to the gym to de-stress, but the Scotch and cigarette were still open for Y2K, so would suffice as a temporary substitute.
As the nicotine reached his brain, he relaxed further back in his chair, and let his head fall back, eyes focused at nothing in particular on the ceiling. ’10, 9, 8…’ came from the crowd on TV, and Estrada immediately dropped his legs from the desk and let their weight pull him upright. He took another quick swig of Scotch, and watched intensively as the countdown reached zero and the big Times Square ball dropped down. Just as he was about to shift his eyes over to the trading screen, a blinding white light projected from the TV. He put his arm in front of his eyes that had become accustomed to the dim light in the building, but the glow from the TV quickly vanished and was replaced by static. He flipped through a few channels, but got nothing, although one or two stations were broadcasting a preset text message: DUE TO A TRANSMITTER FAULT, WE ARE TEMPORARILY OFF THE AIR. WE APOLOGIZE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE. Without wasting any more time at the TV, Tim quickly looked back at the trading screens. The DOW, NYSE and NASDAQ tickers were already frozen on his monitors and on the huge dot matrix sign on the far wall of the trading room. ‘Oh, not already.’ he whispered to himself. Punching buttons on the keyboard bought up various menus. Warning messages flashed at the top of one of the screens.
SYSTEM FAULT - WALL STREET POP ATTEMPTING RE-CONNECT. ALTERNATIVE ACCESS NOW AVAILABLE. LAST FEED FROM WALL STREET NODE LOGGED AT 12:00:06 EST. .
The tickers continued to scroll again. Estrada relaxed back in his chair, but was not happy at missing the celebrations in New York. He picked up a phone to call his office in New York, just in case anyone was in too. He heard an immediate busy signal before even getting past the Manhattan area code. ‘O K..’ He pressed another button on his phone to call Tokyo, which was already many hours ahead, and got through to someone right away.
‘Hello? This is Tim from the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco. Happy New Year! How are you?’
‘Ah, happy new year to you too!’ came an excited Japanese voice.
‘Actually, it’s still 1999 here in San Francisco! Anyway, what is up with New York, I can’t get a live feed from the markets. I guess it’s running in some form of protected mode right?’.
‘We can’t get access either. My friend say there has been an explosion or something because he saw a flash on TV. Maybe a bomb in financial district. Probably some crazy people from another cult, like our Tokyo sarin attack not many years ago!’
‘Can you find out what is going on? I can’t reach New York by phone. ‘
OK, one minute, I try now….’ Tim took another drag on his cigarette, which by now was dripping ash over his desk. He hated losing control of a situation, and even losing access to the live stock tickers for just a few seconds was worrying him, indicating a major fault somewhere. He had unconfidently promised his clients that their US portfolios would be quite safe from any Y2K problems.
‘Tim, I can’t get anything from New York, or anywhere else in the USA. Our TVs are not showing American TV. No CNN. No movies!’
‘What is your name buddy? And what do you do there?’
‘I am Ken. Trainee broker.’
‘Ken, we’re on a dedicated line between our two offices, so this should not go down. Now, I want you to find out what you can using your resources in Tokyo and call me back as soon as you can. Here is my e-mail in case the phone doesn’t work.’
‘OK Tim. I try.’
They party while Rome burns, thought Tim, surprised at the upbeat tone from Ken, who was obviously not as worried as he was about losing access to his client portfolios. A minute later, the phone rang.
‘Tim! It’s Ken. Oh this is bad. NKK TV is reporting that New York is on fire. They are showing live TV from Boston and it shows smoke and orange glow coming from New York. They are saying it is a big bomb or bad plane crash because the fire is big. I am sorry Tim. It is getting chaos here. Everyone is panicking in the building.’
Tim could hear people’s voices getting louder as they learned of what was going on and rushed back to their terminals. It was Saturday, and yet so many people were in the building in Tokyo. So, he wasn’t the only paranoid one.
Without warning, Tim hung up the phone as the depth of what Ken had just said sunk in. He had friends and distant relatives in New York. Knowing it was fruitless, he tried calling them, but only got a busy signal. He couldn’t even get through to his girlfriend who was partying with some friends at their apartment in Cow Hollow less than a mile away. He ran to the windows. Outside, fourteen levels down, Estrada could see masses of people strolling down California Street, probably headed to Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf. Hundreds of police were stretched out on the sidewalks preventing people from getting close to vulnerable store fronts. The distance and thick glass gave him a silent insulated view of the happenings below. He felt safe and comfortable, but was growing concerned that a Y2K or riot induced power failure would throw the place into darkness and cut off his access to the outside world.
He wanted some more conformation on what Ken had told him about New York, and flicked through the TV channels again. ‘Oh no’ he whispered as soon as he reached CNN which was back on the air broadcasting a scene from a helicopter. It clearly showed a raging firestorm across the Manhattan skyline and surrounding areas. Like a scene from a disaster movie, but far worse, the flames were huge, billowing hundreds if not thousands of feet into the air above the devastated tower blocks. The camera zoomed out, showing a scene of destruction many miles wide. Estrada finally put down his tumbler of Scotch and stared intensely into the TV, thinking about all the people who would have been suffering. ‘Oh my god, no no.’ The reporter from CNN was silent most of the time. It was obvious she was lost for words. ‘There has been a terrible attack or accident in New York tonight and we are expecting a live broadcast from the President at any time. A considerable number of my colleagues were in New York, and I fear they have been lost.’
Tim called Ken back. ‘Ken, I am sorry I cut you off. This is terrible, they have nuked New York.’, ‘I know I know, we watching CNN also.’, replied Ken in very fast English. ‘I am scared Ken, they could bomb San Francisco next. Do you think it is the Russians or maybe that terrorist guy Islamabem, or whatever he is called? Can we stay on the phone, there is no one else here.’, ‘Sure Tim. Let’s watch the President.’
‘Oh Christ, I must go home to my girlfriend. We have to get out of San Francisco!’
‘No time Tim! Watch the President, maybe it’s an accident. You cannot drive out of your city. The traffic will be very bad. Maybe they bomb Tokyo instead?’
‘Oh jeeze, let’s watch the TV Ken. If we are at war, I am out of here OK? If not, I am going to go get my girlfriend and bring her back and stay here until the Markets close on Tuesday.’
Saturday January 1, 2000 – 9:17am Paris Time
Guillaume Liechti had a major hangover. Even for the day after the year 2000 new year’s eve party, the cure was the same every Saturday morning. A trip to La Boulangerie for a fresh stuffed croissant and a double Latté. Madam Sandvig always kept her small black and white television on in the shop to watch her Grandson play in the national Football league every Saturday.
‘Happy New Millennium Mm Sandvig! The same as usual please!’
‘Hello Guillaume! Did you have fun?’
‘Ah yes, but now I pay for it!’ replied Guillaume, his hand on his throbbing head.
‘Here you are.’
‘So did you and M Sandvig enjoy yourselves?’
‘Well, we went with the neighbors to watch the fireworks, but there were too many people and we got squashed a bit, but it was fun to see so many people so happy. The fireworks were incredible! Better than after the war!’
‘That’s nice. Hey, Madeline Albright is on TV. A new year message to France maybe?’
The lower half of the screen was blocked out with large text reading in French,
NATIONAL EMERGENCY BROADCAST PLEASE PAY ATTENTION THIS IS NOT A TEST .
As Albright began to talk, subtitles appeared nearly instantly below…
‘Fellow Americans, and people of the world, this is a message of extreme importance. I must ask you all to pay attention to what I have to say.’ She shuffled some papers on her desk, and adjusted her composure.
‘It is with immense regret that I have to inform you that very soon after midnight New York time, a huge explosion was witnessed over the Manhattan Island area of New York and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, due to the fact this happened only hours ago, we have no further details because of major communications outages across the Eastern seaboard and many other areas of the United States. However, our secure hotlines with the governments of Russia, China and other nuclear powers have allowed us to confirm that no attack was launched against this country, or any other country. Further, NORAD — our advanced early warning system — and our European allies have all confirmed that no airborne missile or other type of unidentified craft was ever in United States airspace. This does re-enforce our belief that the explosion was local and so I must reemphasize that the United States is NOT under attack. Do not attempt to leave your city because to do so will block the highways, making it impossible for emergency services to begin their journey to the New York region.’
‘It is likely that there are thousands of casualties and therefore, under the authority of the President, I am ordering an immediate state of national emergency, and countrywide martial law. Anyone caught looting or raising prices will be arrested, or possibly shot without question. Roadblocks will be setup to prevent travel by anyone except the military and emergency vehicles, including ambulances, fire and police.’
‘While our thoughts and prayers must be with the people of New York, I wish to make it clear that the President and Vice President are quite safe and on their way to the Pentagon which is why I am making this broadcast from Washington on their behalf.’
The camera zooms in further to Albright’s quivering face. She stared directly into the camera.
‘I repeat that for your safety, and the safety of others, you remain where you are, and do not travel for any reason other than a serious medical emergency. You will find that the telephone networks and Internet will be overloaded or unavailable. This is quite normal for a situation such as this and I must ask that you be patient and obtain all your information from your television or radio. May God bless the people of New York.’
The screen returned to local coverage of the unfolding events in New York.
‘Guillaume! This is terrible! All those people!’ exclaimed Mm Sandvig.
‘Terrorists! It was that guy in Afghanistan. I always knew this would happen. We must help. My Dad being a doctor could fly out to help.’
‘I am sure they will have a contingency — for a full-scale nuclear war. I imagine people from all over the world will fly in to help. No?’
Within thirty minutes, like many cities across the world, the streets of Paris are in chaos as millions of people try to get back home to watch TV, get on the Internet or contact relatives.
Pacific Stock Exchange, San Francisco
Tuesday January 4, 2000 – 7:58am
‘I can’t wait to get out of here.’ said Tim Estrada’s girlfriend, Elizabeth, who had been with him since the early hours of Saturday morning after Tim walked back home to get her.
‘I think this is stupid, do you really think the markets will open? They can’t allow trading without New York, surely?’
‘I don’t know, but if we’re to have any money at all to ride this out, I’m willing to give it a try, even if it means sleeping another night under the desk, and eating office vending machine food.’
Tim’s trading screen remained static until well after 8am. He put a call into Ken in Tokyo.
‘Hellowww Ken, so I guess it’s over buddy?’
‘Ah, I am so glad to talk to you Tim. Many people have died here. There have been many suicides and riots. My sister was killed at a bank for her money. I came here because I knew you would be worried if I did not answer the phone.’
‘I’m sorry Ken. I really appreciate you being there. Oh God Ken, I’m sorry,’ replied Tim, calmly.
‘I don’t care about my job or this place Tim, I am going to leave Tokyo and we’re moving to another Japanese island with my aunt who has a farm. It is too dangerous here.’
‘Don’t you think we’ll make it? We lost New York, but the markets are independent. If we don’t keep things going, we’ll have to live like the Russians. Lines for food, and all that. And there will be organized crime.’
‘I agree, but I am happy with living on the farm. We have food and electricity. She grows rice!’
‘Oh Ken, come on, if we all keep it together, we can survive. The free market is what maintains the food supply and all that. If we leave this in the hands of communists, it will be like living in the stone age again.’ argued Tim.
‘Tim I don’t care OK, I was happy. I don’t want this. My sister is dead because she had money. Good-bye Tim. Happy life to you and your family.’ The line went dead.
Tim dropped his head to his desk, his hands over his face.
‘What happened Tim?’, asked Elizabeth.
‘Oh, it doesn’t matter honey. Let’s get out of here. The party is over.’
The effects of what became known as the Millennium Bomb reverberate around the world. Stock markets never reopen, and riots and traffic chaos erupt across the US because most national television broadcasts were knocked off the air, so a large proportion of the population never got to hear Madeline Albright’s initial broadcast and assumed the world was at war. The telephone system never recovers, although the Internet is usable within days having being originally designed to survive multiple nuclear strikes. However, although functional, the Internet is unable to cope with the load put on it as over one billion people try to keep in touch and remain informed. Access is therefore restricted and unreliable for the several days it remains available at all.
Y2K / millennium bug hype exacerbates the situation, and the world comes to grips with the fact the United States has been transformed from a superpower into a third world nation within a matter of seconds.
Countries from all over the world immediately launch massive operations to assist the United States, putting significant burdens on their own military and medical resources. With over ten million killed, and another ten million suffering the effects of burns and radiation, plus millions more lacking electricity and water supplies, tens of thousands of tent villages appear in towns and cities across North America, Canada and Mexico. The military maintain a grip on social order, although hundreds are shot for looting, and thousands more are killed as local militia try to take the law into their own hands. Eventually, to prevent further chaos, the military take command of the government.
Rumor reaches the CIA that small factions of the armies of certain enemies of the United States attempted to take advantage of the country’s predicament and launch seaborne attacks, only to be thwarted by commercial space imaging companies who were able to supply valuable data to the still operative Pentagon. The US military, for the first time in its history, is forced to defend the nation, and sinks most of the attacking ships.
Furthermore, with some military communications temporarily blinded by EMP, a US nuclear submarine will come close to launching a nuclear counterstrike against Russia — clueless that the bomb in New York was planted and detonated locally. Only a smart captain, curious as to why his fully armed submarine is not being sought out by an enemy, concludes his country is not under attack.
While the world recoils from the Millennium Bomb, a series of events occur that to the casual observer, are unrelated. These include the sabotaging of power stations and computer data processing centers, as well as the firebombing of factories and shops. The attacks are carried out across the world without regard to political status, and without the intentional loss of life. Those responsible for these acts claim to be following instructions from a web site that enough people were able to print out before the Internet became useless.
Within less than one week, many employees of companies including AT&T, MCIWorldcom, British Telecom, NTT, DeutchTelecom, Cisco, UUNet, UnwiredPlanet, America Online and Microsoft quit after seeing their stock become worthless, and needing to spend time protecting their families from looters. As a result, within a few more days, the Internet collapses completely having relied upon these very companies for stability.
By March 2000, most of the world begins to resort to a way of life similar to that in the middle ages, with the disadvantage that the population is several billion larger and heavily armed. The advantage, it has wisdom.
Continue to Chapter 3
CHAPTER 2 OF 4 – SHOCKWAVE