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TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY

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Published by DTYarbrough
A SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
A SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

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Published by: DTYarbrough on Aug 05, 2010
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09/06/2014

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY

Written by DTYarbrough

A SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY
Written by DTYarbrough Billy awoke with the sunshine in his eyes. Had he forgotten to set the alarm again? Mom would have woken him up if that was all it was. This was a school day. Why did she let him sleep in? Billy grabbed his cell phone, but it had a blank screen. The batteries must be low again. He had charged it recently, he was sure of that. He flipped the light switch in the bathroom but nothing happened. That was it. The power was off and all the alarm clocks had failed. Billy opened the shades and let in a little more light. He got dressed and headed downstairs to find his mom and dad on the sofa. “Why aren't you at work, Dad?” he asked. “Did you oversleep too?” “The car won't start. Dead battery, I guess,” he said. “Does your phone work?” “No, and I'm pretty sure it was charged,” Billy replied. “Where's breakfast?” “The stove doesn't work,“ Mom said. “No electricity. Let's take my car and grab something at McDougals.” “I'm going to be late for school,” Billy said. “I'll need a note.” “We'll drop you off after we eat,” Mom said. “Buckle up. What's going on? It won't start.” “Try the radio,” said Billy. “It doesn't work either,” Dad said. “This is getting weirder by the moment.” “The headlights work. It's not the battery,” said Mom. “I'm going next door to see if Donna has gone to school yet,” said Billy. “I'll see if they are having the same kind of problems.” Donna had moved in more than a year ago, but they had hardly spoken. He had talked to her a few times at school recently because they were in a play together. It wasn't that she wasn't attractive, Billy just had other things on his mind. She had never shown a real interest in him, and he had all the friends he needed on the internet. “Check back with us before you go anywhere else?” said Dad. “I'm going to fire up the grill and try to fix something for breakfast. Hurry back if you want something to eat.” …......................... “Billy? What are you doing here?” asked Donna. “Does your phone work?” 1

“No. Have you guys lost power too?” asked Billy. “And the cars won't start,” said Donna. “Even our cell phones are dead.” “Same here,” said Billy. “I was thinking about riding my bike to school.” “Dad's making breakfast,” said Donna. “Want to join us?” “My dad's making something. After we eat, can I give you a ride to school?” asked Billy. “Sure, I guess so,” said Donna. “Maybe somebody there will have some answers.” …......................... “They've got the same problems that we do,” said Billy. “Nothing works. Is this my plate?” “Sure honey,” said Mom. “Milk or juice. Better drink the milk before it spoils.” “Donna and I are going to ride my bike to school. I still need that note,” said Billy. “What are you going to do, Dad?” asked Billy. “Wait for the power to come back on and call the auto club,” said Dad. “Here's your note,” said Mom. “See you after school.” “See you guys later,” said Billy. “Gotta run.” …......................... “Ready to go, Donna?” asked Billy. “Hop on.” As they headed for school, only a few cars were on the road. As they arrived at the school the school sign said that school had been canceled for the day. They were told to check the school web site for further information. “Should we head home?” asked Billy. “Let's go to the library. Maybe their computers will be working,” said Donna, “We need to check the web for some indication as to what the heck is going on.” “Good idea,” said Billy. “Let's go.” As they got closer to town, it became obvious from all the broken windows that none of the businesses were open. They saw many people running down the streets carrying food and other items they had obviously stolen. “Have you been to the 2

library?” Billy asked a kid as he ran past pushing a shopping cart. “Is it open?” “Nothing's open,” he yelled back as he continued running. “We'd better go home,” said Donna. “I'm frightened.” “Okay,” said Billy. “Hang on. We'll be home in no time.” “Watch out for that car,” said Donna as a 1956 Chevy speed by. “Why do you suppose they were able to start their car?” “Am I mistaken, or have all the cars we've seen been antiques?” said Billy. “Those old cars didn't have computers. I think something has happened to the computers. That would explain the problem with cell phones.” “But what happened to the computers?” asked Donna. “I'll bet Jimmy Johnson will have some theories. He knows all about computers,” said Billy. “He lives clear on the other side of the tracks,” said Donna. “I want to go home.” “Okay, I'm just saying,” said Billy. “He'll figure this out. We'll see him at school tomorrow, I'll bet.” “I'm not so sure,” said Donna. “I have a bad feeling about this.” “I'll see you later,” said Billy. “I'm going to see if my parents have found out anything.” “Okay, Billy,” said Donna. “Thanks for getting me home safely.” …............................ “Billy, you're home. Did school let out early?” asked Mom. “School's canceled until further notice,” said Billy. “We were going to the library, but there were people stealing food and running wild in the streets. Have you guys heard anything?” “Not a thing,” she said. “The power's still off. I talked to Mrs. Ford a few minutes ago. They're coming over in a little while. Donna will probably come with them.” “Do they have any idea about what's going on?” asked Billy. “Donna's dad has some sort of technical job, doesn't he?” “I didn't talk to him, but Mrs. Ford didn't indicate that they had any clues,” said Mom.

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“That's probably them now,” said Mom as she heard a knock at the door. “Billy, would you get the door?” “Come on in,” said Billy. “Hi, Donna.” “Hi, Billy,” said Donna. “Just follow me. They're in the living room,” said Billy. “Mom. Dad. We've got company.” “Hello, Dave,” said Billy's dad. “Make yourself comfortable.” “Hello, Bill,” said Dave. “Good to see you again.” “Hi, Betty,” said Billy's mom. “Hi, Doris,” said Betty. “What do you guys think about what's going on?” “It really strange,” said Doris. “That's all I know.” “I was talking to our other neighbor, and he said that he woke up about 3:00 A.M. and noticed a light outside. There was an aurora just like the Aurora Borealis right here in Springdale. The air was so statically charged that he felt like he had an afro. He showed me a polaroid picture,” said Dave. “I think we were hit by a solar flare.” “Could that explain the problems we're having?” asked Bill. “Not your normal flare,” said Dave, “but one large enough to cause an aurora this far south, maybe. It's unprecedented.” “How long will it take to get the power back on?” asked Doris. “That's a very good question. It looks like practically all ICs have been damaged,” said Dave. “The way everything is so automated, you can't do anything without computers anymore.” “Icees ?” asked Doris. “Integrated circuits, computer chips, you know,” said Dave. “The question is how serious and widespread is the problem.” “Maybe it just a local isolated incident,” said Bill. “I'm afraid not. In fact, we're the lucky ones,” said Dave. “We were on the dark side when it happened. Who knows what effects the radiation had on those who were fully exposed. Fortunately it won't linger in the atmosphere, so we don't have to worry about fallout.” “What if there are more flares?” asked Bill. 4

“That's not likely. This was one in a million,” said Dave. “We're going to fire up the old mustang and drive out to my parents' farm. Donna tells me people are already rioting. You're welcome to come along. There's strength in numbers.” “Who's going to watch over our homes?” asked Doris. “If it comes to that, I'd rather not be here,” said Bill. “I think we should go with them.” “If you think so. Do we have time to pack?” asked Doris. “Sure, but we'd better hurry,” said Dave. “Once the panic starts, it will escalate quickly. Take whatever you need, food, clothing, medicine, etc. We've got a trailer.” “I'll get some containers for gas and start emptying the tanks on the other vehicles,” said Bill. “There won't be any service stations open. How far is it to the farm?” “A hundred and eighty miles,” said Dave. “I've got enough gas to get there, but who knows how much we'll need later.” “It's not east of here is it?” asked Bill. “Three hours east would make it borderline daylight when it was 3:00 A.M. here. “No, it's almost due west,” said Dave. “It was probably the least affected.” “That's good. Maybe their TV or radios still work,” said Bill. “Does he have a generator?” “I believe so,” said Dave. “Are we all ready. Anybody got to go to the bathroom before we leave?” It was a nice day as Billy and Donna rode along in the trailer. The mustang was too small to seat them all comfortably. The cool summer breeze felt good on Billy's face. The road was almost completely devoid of traffic. Donna was standing up in the front of the trailer, holding on to the railing. The wind was blowing through her hair. Billy was lying down, looking up at her from behind. Her tan line was barely visible below her shorts. Where were his internet friends now? “Donna. Are you on Mynet?” asked Billy. “What? I can't hear you,” said Donna. Billy got up and stood beside her. “Are you on Mynet?” he asked. “Yeah. Are you?” she replied. “What???” asked Billy.

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“Let's sit down,” said Donna loudly as she pointed to the back of the trailer. “Yes, I'm on Mynet. Are you?” she repeated. “What's your name?” asked Billy. “That's sort of personal, don't you think?” said Donna. “My name is Scooter,” said Billy. “No, that's you?” Donna laughed. “What's so funny?” asked Billy. “Nothing, it's just that we talk all the time,” said Donna. “I'm Buttercup.” “You're one of my best friends,” said Billy. “I've been tempted to ask you to meet for months.” “I'd never do that,” said Donna. “You never know what sort of creeps are on the net.” “What was that look you gave me when you said that?” asked Billy. “Just kidding. You're not all that creepy,” said Donna. ........................... “I haven't seen any police or national guard,” said Bill. “Looks like no one had a plan for such an emergency.” “Even if they were supposed to meet somewhere, the lack of communication and transportation will delay them,” said Dave. “They'll probably show up tomorrow after there's nothing left in the stores worth stealing.” “What about the hospitals?” asked Doris. “No computers, not enough doctors or nurses, no life support systems, no ambulances.” “People with pacemakers and other computerized implants are also in danger, if they're not already dead,” said Dave. “And backup systems. The more sophisticated they are, the less likely they worked.” “Devices in underground bunkers must have survived,” said Bill. “Probably, but their above ground connections would be broken,” said Dave. “The satellites were probably the first to go.” “My god,” said Betty. “What about all the airplanes that were in flight, or the ships lost at sea? This is terrible.”

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“Can't we talk about something else?” said Doris. “You're frightening me.” …....................... “I hope your grandpa has the internet,” said Billy. “I'm not sure. He's sort of old fashioned. He still plows the fields with a mule,” said Donna. “Grandma spins her own yarn.” “You're kidding,” said Billy. “Do they go to town in a covered wagon?” “No, he has an old pickup truck,” said Doris. “They do have satellite TV.” “Well, at least we'll have MTV,” said Billy. “Hey, aren't those geese flying in the wrong direction?” “We're almost there,” said Donna as they turned onto a gravel road. “Hey, you missed a bump,” yelled Billy as the trailer bounced and jerked. “Hang on Donna.” Billy put his arm around Donna and held her hand softly. She squeezed his hand with each new bump. “Slow down, Dad!” she yelled. The mustang slowed to a crawl. “Sorry, kids,” Dave yelled back. “I forgot the trailer doesn't have shocks.” …....................... “Grandpa!” yelled Donna as she ran into his outreached arms. “I missed you.” “I missed you too, Little Bit,” said Grandpa. “Don't call me Little Bit. I'm almost fourteen,” said Donna. “Where's grandma?” “Around back in the garden, I suspect,” said Grandpa. “She'll be so surprised.” “Come on, Billy,” said Donna. “I want you to meet my grandma.” …....................... “Hey, Son,” said Grandpa. “What brings you out this way? I don't believe I've met your friends.” “Dad, this is Bill and Doris,” said Dave. “They're our good friends and neighbors.” “Pleased to meet you both, and welcome to my humble home,” said Grandpa. “Dad? Have you noticed anything strange today?” asked Dave.

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“No. Like what?” asked Grandpa. “The power's off, but that's not all that strange.” “Have you heard from Sissy lately?” asked Dave. “Got a letter from your sister just last week. Shame you never learned to write,” said Grandpa. “I've been pretty busy, Dad. How's she doing?” asked Dave. “Just fine. The kids are growing like weeds. She sent me some pictures,” said Grandpa. “I wouldn't have recognized Donna if I'd met her on the street. How long has it been?” “We're here now, Dad,” said Dave. “Are we going to enjoy it or are you going to keep fussing at me?” “It's really good to see you, Son,” said Grandpa. “Come on up to the house, folks, and make yourselves at home.” “Do you have a battery operated radio?” Dave asked his dad. “That's what we should have brought, batteries!” “I've got more batteries than you can shake a stick at,” said Grandpa, “and a radio to boot, inside the fallout shelter.” “I forgot all about that. You built that back in the sixties, didn't you?” asked Dave. “We rode out a lot of tornadoes down there,” said Grandpa, “but no bombs yet.” “Can we check out that radio?” asked Dave. “Do you think it still works?” “Worked fine during the last storm,” said Grandpa. “Are you wanting to listen to some golden oldies?” “I'm sorry, Dad,” said Dave. “We should fill you in on what we think has happened.” …........................... “That's awful,” said Grandpa. “I told you all that newfangled stuff would lead to no good.” “It didn't cause the problem,” said Dave. “Where are those batteries? These seem to be dead.” “Over here in this box,” said Grandpa. “When did you buy these?” asked Dave. “This one expired in 1965.” “I bought them when I stocked the shelter, back in 59,” said Grandpa. 8

“Most of them are corroded,” said Dave. “We'll be lucky to find enough good ones to run this radio.” “Think positive,” said Grandpa. “These don't look too bad. I've got an analog meter. You can test them.” “It seems to be working, but all I'm getting is static,” said Dave. “We'll try again later.” “I could fire up the generator and see if the TV works,” said Grandpa, “or the computer.” “You have a computer?” asked Dave. “I don't believe it.” “Your mom likes to do her shopping online,” said Grandpa. “She's turning into quite a modern woman. Personally, I don't see the point. They've got all I need at the general store.” “Mom! We were just talking about you,” said Dave as Grandma entered the shelter. “Give me a hug,” said Grandma. “Just look at you. Has she been feeding you?” “I'm on a diet, Mom. High cholesterol,” said Dave. “I'll put some meat on your bones,” she said. “How are you, darling?” “I'm fine Mom. How are you?” Dave replied. “Can't complain,” she said. “Since when?” asked Grandpa. “About my health, you old coot,” said Grandma. “Son, you know your friends are always welcome, but I was wondering why they didn't want to be with their family.” “Their parents and most of the other family members were in Europe on a trip when this all happened,” said Dave. “There's no way to get in touch with them.” “Oh, that's too bad,” said Grandma. “I hope they're okay.” “Me too,” said Dave. “What's that noise?” “Someone's coming up the road,” said Grandpa. “Now who could that be?” …........................... “Sissy, you made it. How is everyone?” asked Dave.

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“We're just fine, Junior,” said Sissy. “How's your bunch?” “We're fine,” said Dave. “It's really nice to see you again. You haven't changed a bit.” “You have,” she laughed. “You need glasses.” “Dad, I'm going to show Billy around the farm,” said Donna. “Does Cindy and Cathy want to come?” “Maybe later. They haven't seen their Grandpa and Grandma for ages,” said Sissy. “Okay, see you guys later,” said Donna. “Three girls,” Billy said. “I'm outnumbered.” “You like the odds,” said Donna. “I saw the way you were looking at them.” “Do I detect a bit of jealousy, Buttercup?” asked Billy. “Not a bit, Scooter,” said Donna. “Cathy's too young and Cindy's too old.” “They looked just fine to me,” Billy thought, “but neither one held a candle to Donna.” “Let's climb up to the hayloft,” said Donna. “You can see for miles from up there.” “Wow, that's quite a view,” said Billy, “and the countryside looks nice too.” Billy began climbing to the top of a stack of bales. “What will you give me to jump?” he said looking at the pile of loose straw below.” “A Yankee dime,” she said. “What's that?” he asked. “Jump and you'll find out,” she said. “Chicken?” Billy leaped off the bales and landed in the pile of straw. Donna jumped onto the pile and kissed Billy. “That's a Yankee dime,” she said. “Wow, I believe you have some change coming,” he said as he kissed her back. “Kids! Come on back to the house. Wash your hands, we're getting ready to eat,” yelled Grandma. “I really like you,” said Billy. “You're not so bad,” said Donna. “We'd better hurry up. Are you hungry?”

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“I could eat a horse,” said Billy. “That reminds me. You haven't seen the livestock yet,” said Donna. …........................ “I tried the radio again. All I'm getting is static.” said Dave. “The computer still works but there's no internet, email, or any outside communication. At least that means all ICs were not damaged, at least not those in fallout shelters.” “Got any computer games?” asked Billy. “Just what came with it,” said Grandma. “You can check it out later. Did you kids wash your hands?” “Yes, Grandma,” said Donna. “Where am I sitting?” “Over there at that smaller table,” said Grandma. “Fill your plates before you sit down, kids.” “Cathy, Cindy, this is my good friend Billy,” said Donna. “Billy, these are my cousins.” “Hi, Billy,” they said in unison. “Why was the computer in the fallout shelter?” asked Bill. “The old coot said that I couldn't bring a computer into this house,” said Grandma. “Besides, after 40 years of filling these rooms with knickknacks and heirlooms or what you would call junk, there wasn't room in the house anyway.” “Everybody hold hands. I'll say the blessing,” said Grandpa. As they held hands and lowered their heads, Grandpa said the blessing. As he spoke, Cindy and Cathy both squeezed Billy's hands. Was this how they did it, he wondered as he squeezed back. “Dig in,” said Grandma. “Don't be shy. There's plenty.” After they had eaten, the adults gathered around the TV as Dave tried to turn it on. “Maybe it's the remote, try the switch on the TV,” said Grandpa. “It's no use,” said Dave. “Let's try the one from the shelter. Help me bring it in and hook it up to the satellite dish, Son,” said Grandpa. …........................ As Billy returned from the bathroom, he passed Cindy in the hallway. “Did she just wink at me?” he wondered. Then he passed Cathy. “I know she winked at me. This is 11

going to be a problem,” he thought. “You look worried,” said Donna. “What's the problem?” “Nothing. Did the TV work?” asked Billy. “No, but they're getting ready to try the other TV,” said Donna. …........................ “It's on. I can bring up the TV's menu, but not the satellite receiver's menu. I think the receiver is damaged. Got any rabbit ears?” asked Dave. “I'll see if I can find them. The old woman never throws anything away, but I haven't seen them in years,” said Grandpa. “Why don't you check the radio again?” …......................... “I thought I had something on the short wave band but it wasn't clear and it kept coming and going. Then I lost it,” said Dave. “I'll try again later. I'm pretty sure it was something.” “Well, that's good news, isn't it?” said Betty. “Maybe if you climb up to the hayloft, you can get better reception,” said Billy. “Why don't I go check it out?” “Can I go, too?” asked Cindy. “Me, too,” said Cathy. “Let's all go,” said Donna. “If it's okay with our parents.” “Ask your dad,” said Sissy. “Go ahead kids,” said Tom. …......................... “What's martial law?” Billy asked his dad. “Why do you ask?” said Bill. “Maybe you guys should listen. They keep repeating the same message,” said Billy. “Something about martial law and imminent domain.” The president had declared Martial Law and put the military in control. They had seized all operational forms of transportation and any functional high tech devices in an attempt to get industry back on its feet. Farmers are encouraged to plant extra 12

crops to help feed the hungry. Money was useless and no one was being compensated for their services. Volunteers were desperately needed in hospitals and nursing homes. Schools were being reopened and attendance by both teachers and students was mandatory. School lunches were provided as well as bicycles. Anyone caught hording would be punished. “We've got to go to school,” said Billy. “But my school is 180 miles away.” “There's a school ten miles up the highway,” said Grandpa. “Once you get a bike, it won't be so bad. Why, when I was a kid ...” “Dad, we've all heard that story,” said Dave. “Are we staying, Dad?” asked Billy. “Please.” “You're all welcome to stay and help with the farming,” said Grandpa. “We can build some cabins.” Everyone agreed that they had nothing to go back to. They could do more good on the farm or in the local hospitals, at least until the world was back on its feet.

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