41. The Blackout

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Kuklacı took the mug of coffee and the cheese sandwich from the tray. Maurice stood there in silence while she ate. Once the sandwich was finished, she returned the empty plate.  

‘Feedback: a little less butter; more cheese; and tomorrow I’d like them cut diagonally.’


Maurice spun around and trundled towards the kitchen. Kuklacı would have actually liked some lettuce and tomato in her sandwich but she wasn’t sure Maurice was ready for that yet. He was her newest pet and contained some remarkable A.I. tech but she’d learned to go one step at a time. Her robotic creations were state-of-the-art but she’d found that treating them like children could be quite productive.

Kuklacı spun her chair around and looked up at her fifty-inch holo-screen. She had various windows open and was monitoring a range of news outlets, blogs and social media. It had been a strange few days in San Lazaro and she was determined to stay up to date with developments. Due to her cutting-edge work in robotics and her influential online presence, she had access to some very well-informed sources.

Four days ago, the mainstream media had reported on several cases of avian flu. And earlier that morning, a lab technician friend informed Kuklacı that San Lazaro University Hospital had treated three patients on the first day, twenty-two on the second day and one hundred and ninety-nine on the third day. It didn’t take an expert mathematician to work out that the disease was spreading rapidly. Worse still, a professor at Lazarus State had disclosed that the virus was mutating rapidly. It was already substantially different from the infection that had blighted much of Asia and Europe.

In the center of the screen was a partially-finished document. Kuklacı felt it was her duty to share what she had discovered. She’d considered releasing the post anonymously but felt she owed it to her friends and followers (who numbered in the hundreds of thousands) to be open. Official sources were revealing only the minimum and she felt a responsibility to those within San Lazaro and her many fans throughout the world. Kuklacı was one of the most famous of the city’s inhabitants. She had spent all her adult life there and was not intending to leave unless it became absolutely necessary.

Dragging her eyes off an email from her mother titled, ‘What’s happening?’, she instead turned her attention to a message from Digger. His real name was Max Keller and he owned Keltron, the manufacturer developing a new breed of household robots alongside Kuklacı. Max indulged his love for conspiracy theories with his blog, Digger’s Treasures. He seemed to be enjoying the crisis.   

Just heard back from Deep Throat.

This was the name Digger had given to his high-ranking contact in the military. Keltron had numerous contracts with the US Army and Digger exploited them to the full.

The hospitals are overflowing. Nurses and doctors are being brought in from all over the state. National Guard units are being assembled outside the city. But you won’t hear about any of this on the evening news!

Wow, replied Kuklacı. Do the military have any theories?

Nothing beyond the standard line – environmental conditions have exacerbated the spread of the virus.

Has to be more to it than that.

Of course, replied Max. Maybe something escaped from some lab?

A lab in S.L. that neither you or I have heard about?

Could be a terrorist strike.

A virus this sophisticated? No way.

Now came the first pause in the frantic exchange of messages. Max broke it:

Hold on, another message from D T - a transport just landed at the airport carrying equipment for setting up some kind of energy field.

Ultra-wideband signal jammer? replied Kuklacı.

Or entropic disruptor? I’m going to see what else I can find out. Will be in touch.


Kuklacı pushed her chair away from her desk and stood up. She walked across her luxurious lounge to a window. Close by, one of her cleaning bots was quietly vacuuming the floor. Kuklacı put her hands in her pockets and gazed down at the tiny moving shapes thirty stories below. So many people; so much obfuscation and misinformation.

They had a right to know.


Over the next few hours, more and more information came in. Kuklacı had initially decided to limit her post to one thousand words but it grew and grew to more than two and a half thousand.

Finally, she was ready. She would post on her personal blog site then add links to it on eight different social media platforms. She would use her own name but not mention any of her other sources. Over the years, Kuklacı had established herself as a trustworthy commenter and observer. Usually, the focus was technology but occasionally she commented on wider issues. In recent days she had been inundated with requests for her take on the crisis. Now was the time to speak.

She checked the post a final time, then uploaded it to her site. She was about to publish it when several error messages told her the same thing.


Within a few seconds she realized there was no internet, no TV, no phone signal. The power was on but she could not connect.  

Digger had been concerned about an information blackout and that potential ‘troublemakers’ might be targeted first. Kuklacı thought this overly paranoid but it now seemed he’d been proved right.  

‘Damn it.’

She stood up and turned to the window. She hadn’t taken her eyes off the screen in hours and hadn’t realized how much time had passed. Outside, it was dark.