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Ice Barrier Earth
An adventure to the world's edge
By Piero Campanini Posted in Fiction 35 min read
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Ice Barrier Earth

by Piero Campanini


Antarctica, a day in 2035.

The “inaccessible zone” is called this because it’s the most distant from the coasts of Antarctica, and is also the most difficult to access. It is a silent and monotonously similar territory, a place that creates an inner emptiness for those who cross it, a dimension that oppresses the spirit.

No satellite can peek beneath the ice cap that covers it, and the pristine landscape therefore remains secret.

Apart from the difficult and unstable communications, only with a special Venturi-type vehicle, a tractor rigged with reconnaissance equipment, is it possible to venture there safely. Even so, the researchers that usually use it to check permafrost conditions never stray too far from their base.

Nalin had a different approach on the morning he had accompanied Cinzia, one of the researchers assigned to collect ice samples for monitoring methane derived from the subsoil.

Nalin had seen the white desert as offering the possibility to stay alone with her for a while, which was a difficult thing to do at the base.

At the end of the observation, after checking that the batteries were sufficiently charged, Nalin had therefore decided to continue beyond the mark that signaled the exact location of the geographical pole, and which had always served as a limit to be respected.

“Want some?” he asked Cinzia, offering her a drink.

Cinzia took a sip from Nalin’s thermos, then became purple and began to gasp as she tried to catch her breath.

Nalin laughed as the vehicle swerved in the snow.

“Shit! What the hell is it?” she coughed with tears in her eyes.

“It’s grappa and it’s Italian! Like you! Strange thing that you don’t like it.”

“This isn’t grappa…it’s rubbish!” She coughed again. “How the hell did you get it?” she asked. Alcohol was prohibited at the base.

“Everything arrives at the station, if you have enough money.”

While Cinzia tried to recover from coughing, Nalin offered her another sip.

“No, thanks. Alcohol is bad for you in this cold.”

“Are you joking? This delight would resuscitate a dead person.”

“Damn it, Nalin, you’re a biologist and you should know that that stuff is a vasodilator, and that this is the least opportune moment for you to drink.”

“I know, Cindy, but believe it or not, when I drink a little, I drive even better.”

“Anyway, we’re going too far and it’s time to get back to the base,” she said. “And don’t call me that.”

“As you wish, Cindy. Are you okay with the samples?” Nalin pointed toward the compartment behind him.

“I think so,” she replied, turning around. In that moment she felt her leg caressed.

“What the hell are you doing?” she asked, abruptly removing Nalin’s hand.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, “it’s just that you have the same effect as the grappa.”

“Which means I make you stupid?”

“Oh, come on! It was just a friendly gesture between colleagues. Also, don’t deceive yourself too much: you’re not very sexy with that thermal suit on.”

“Think about driving and keep your hands on the wheel, please.”

“Yes, ma’am,” puffed Nalin, “but you should let yourself go sometimes: two drops and…” he waved the thermos, “…and immediately the chills go up your spine. Do you want to know something? It’s the effect you have on me, but I can’t drink you…unless you…”

“Fuck, Nalin! Can you stop it?” Cinzia turned around, irritated, to look out the window.

“Oh, come on, Cindy! We are ahead of schedule; we have the whole day ahead and nothing to do. We could have fun.”

Cinzia huffed and puffed, crossing her arms. Realizing that the situation was not going in the desired direction, Nalin sighed and turned the wheel to go back to the base.

“And don’t call me Cindy,” she added.

“All right, all right. Can you see anything outside?”

“There is nothing here, and we shouldn’t be here, either,” she answered, still pouting. “If they find out we got this far at the base without warning them, they’ll send us back home on the first ship,” she added, then checked the thermometer.

“Minus thirty-seven, in line with the season. But the tracker indicates that we are not going in the right direction.”

“I turned it off, so that nobody would notice our deviation: but don’t worry, I’ll get on that peak and we can stop to trace the way back.”

Cinzia was assaulted by the anxiety that they might be lost.

With nostalgia she thought about the warmth of her land, Italy; she would soon return there. She felt, however, that by now Antarctica had marked her and that, somehow, it would continue to live inside her forever.

Suddenly the Venturi jumped as if it had hit a rock. The load slid against the hatch and the traction alarm buzzer started ringing.

“What’s happening!?” she shouted, holding on to the dashboard handle.

“We hit something!”

Nalin stopped the vehicle and checked the instruments: everything seemed okay. He turned the alarm off and started the automatic system check.

“I have to get out and see what we hit.”

“Okay, I’m coming with you.”

Cinzia lifted the hood of her suit and started to open the door.

“Cindy.” Nalin grabbed her by the arm so that she would turn around.

“What is it now?”

“I’m not drunk,” he reassured her.

“Shit, I know! You’re just…reckless.”

As soon as they got out, they put on their glasses to face the reverberation, only snow and solitude around them. Their vehicle had stopped at the beginning of the hill they had faced, and at the top there seemed to be a reflection stretching out into the blue sky.

“It’s the effect that snow creates when sunlight hits it, a kind of mirage,” commented Nalin.

“What did we hit?” she asked, turning around to see where they had come from. At a distance of about twenty meters, right on the tire tracks, there seemed to be something metallic sticking out of the snow.

“Did we lose something?” she asked again, thinking that it might be a part of their Venturi.

“I don’t think so,” answered Nalin, who in the meantime had walked around the vehicle to check on its condition. “Everything seems to be all right.”

They then went to see what was sticking out of the snow.

“What the hell is it?”

“I have no idea; it looks like aluminum.”

“Judging by the sheet of ice, I would say that it’s been here for a long time.”

“It reminds me of an airplane part…maybe a wing, or the rudder.”

Nalin tried to lift what appeared to be a fragment of a cockpit, but being unable to move it, he let it go and dusted some of the snow off the part where he had seen the writing.

“What does it say?”

“I don’t know; I think it’s in Chinese.”

“Chinese? What is a Chinese airplane doing here?”

Nalin got up and looked around, realizing that there was something else on the slope.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. “We need binoculars. Can you figure out what’s up there?”

Cinzia raised her glasses and squinted to focus.

“Shit!”

“Yes, shit! You can say that again.”

“Something has happened here, and up there it seems like…I don’t know what it seems like.”

“I say we go and have a look.”

“Wait, I’m coming with you…shall we take the car?”

“No, I don’t trust this. There may be other debris and I don’t want to risk being stuck here. Better if we go by foot.”

They faced the slope without looking away from what seemed to be more and more like a puppet lying in the snow. Cinzia was distressed; the silence around was disturbing and it frightened her.

When they were almost at the top, she stopped to let Nalin go carefully by himself.

“What is it? Nalin, what is it?”

Nalin didn’t reply and instead bent down in the snow, so she decided to catch up with him.

“Holy shit!” she exclaimed as soon as she was by his side.

“You can say that again,” he added, while staring at the snow.

“Are those…corpses?”

“Yes, two, dead and stiff.”

A slab of ice had slipped, leaving two bodies exposed. One seemed to be of a woman, from what the erosion of freezing still made it possible to understand, and above her, frozen in the act, who perhaps had tried to protect her, a man.

“Holy shit!” murmured Cinzia to herself again.

The two bodies had to have been there for a long time: they were discoloured and the cold had frozen them into a single block, their limbs grotesquely twisted in a tragic embrace.

“Who could they be? The pilots?”

“They don’t seem like pilots, and their suits have not been in use for at least thirty years.”

“Maybe they were part of some expedition and they got lost,” offered Cinzia. “They must have died from the cold.”

“Not from the cold. Look here.”

Nalin knelt in the snow and tried to open the woman’s jacket that was stiffened by the frost: the fabric broke and Cinzia saw the hole where a bullet had pierced her chest.

“They were killed.”

Cinzia was trembling, not from the cold, but from the dismay.

“What are we going to do now?” she weakly asked.

Nalin rose and hugged her to cheer her up. She responded by holding on to him, without taking her eyes off the two bodies in the snow.

“Nothing. Now we get back to the base.”

“I need to mark this spot so that someone can come and take them away.”

“I think it’s best if we leave things how they are,” Nalin suggested. “We are in a forbidden area and we should justify our presence; talking about it does not seem like a good idea.”

“Okay, okay.” She nodded several times. Then seeing that Nalin was bending over the corpses again, she asked him what he was doing.

“He has something in his pocket.” He lifted an arm to show her. “A lighter.”

“Shit, Nalin! Put that back and let’s get out of here.”

“All right, start heading down, I’ll catch up with you straight away.”

While Cinzia was descending rapidly toward the Venturi, Nalin got up and weighed the old lighter. He decided to keep it and put it in his pocket.

“You won’t need it anymore anyway,” he said, turning to the body in the snow. He thought he could get something in return by trading it at the base. When he finally got down and climbed back into the Venturi, he found Cinzia sipping from his thermos.

“I thought you didn’t like it,” he said to her while starting to drive, “but even an abstainer would need to pull himself up with something strong, having found two mummified corpses in the ice.”

“It’s not because of them!” Cinzia said with wide eyes. “It’s because of that! Shit!”

Nalin looked out the windshield where a blinding trail rose from the hill and radiated above their heads. The sky looked like a huge sheet of glass scratched by the sun, a barrier of air, light, and frost, crossed by the rainbow.

Ice Barrier Earth

1.

Paris, Marc Moreau.

My name is Marc Moreau. I was born in France, in Paris, and I was raised in a UBD center: Institutes for Difficult Children, but I was not difficult, rather a prodigy, one of those children who are classified as Indigos still today.

When I was twelve, I was entrusted to a couple who came from Le Chesnay, a town two minutes away from Rocquencourt and a little further away from la Ville Lumiere, where I prematurely attended, the Lycée Moulin, and then continued my studies and graduated from the Sorbonne in the UFR27 section: the special section of the university’s IT training unit managed by the Ministry of Defense.

At the time, I didn’t care about who my adoptive parents were and how they could afford my expensive university studies. As the Moreau couple was of modest means and were unemployed, I simply believed that papa et maman had an income that allowed them to live without a job. Growing up, I realized that it was the government that supported my adoptive family, providing them with what they needed to live and for my studies.

This became even clearer the day I graduated. On that same day, in fact, I received a proposal that was as interesting as it was unexpected. I was asked to work at INRIA, the National Institute for Research in Information Technology and Automation. A surprising proposal considering I had never submitted any application for employment, nor did I have a curriculum, therefore, as I suspected, the Institute had selected me thanks to the same generous patron of all time: the government.

That recommendation quickly led me to say, with certainty, that my life was governed by the patron angel of the State Administration who, after having given my parents a salary for years to raise me and provide me with adequate education, then directed me where I could be most useful to it.

So, fresh from graduation, I entered the labor market from the main door of the most popular scientific institution in the country and without thinking twice about accepting the job, because computer research was the most suitable position for a “difficult” boy like me.

I found my job at the national institute fit for my talent and easier than I had expected. I naively attributed my excellent student references to the fact that the Institute involved me in some of their secret projects, almost always connected to national security. But I soon realized that at INRIA I was considered an exception, an enfant prodige, someone from whom everyone expected something exceptional, not just a first-class graduate.

From the first months I was given the task to fill out programming strings, in order to improve the governmental information security software: a task usually entrusted to much more experienced personnel. This activity allowed me to become familiar with the various system types and to roam freely for sensitive networks, sometimes browsing in databases that kept confidential files.

Not that I was actually interested in them, but I was satisfied by the sense of power that came from having the possibility of doing it. Wherever I went, wherever I poked my nose, I was not just any intruder but part of the system. The best part was considering myself the demiurge of the government network.

The digital jungle was my ideal habitat. It was easy to get around the protocols and decrypt passwords, find viruses and venture into the depths of the network. As a “Tom Thumb,” I disseminated crawler and backbox programs, mostly routine analysis and vulnerability tests, linking them to my faithful laptop. It was not legal for me to do so, let alone to use personal equipment. Let’s say that being my own supervisor allowed me to sleep peacefully at night.

Of course I was not the only one to take care of the French infrastructure. Data communication, archiving, and protection was a task shared by many operators. However, I was the only one who managed to optimize some maintenance processes, to find and fix flaws in the system, and compile clever obfuscation programs to preserve the most sensitive archives. As I mentioned, I enjoyed unofficial access privileges and could wander around the network without the system preventing me from doing so.

Everything went smoothly for a couple of years, until one day, a watcher, a tracking program, whose susceptibility I had underestimated, had identified me in one of the few network areas I shouldn’t have been in. I mean that he identified the connection with my laptop and this was enough to trigger the alarm; I was tracked and classified as a “security hacker.”

Both the fanatic sentinel program and I worked for the same “firm,” but I hadn’t been able to prove it to him. He had discovered me after I had questioned the TES, the Electroniques Securisés, without authentication: the brain that collects the data of sixty million French citizens. Of course I had forced him a little, but I was also very careful not to damage the DDL, the database. My intention was only to rummage through the data, as I often did, venturing into the most remote parts of the system. The inevitable consequence being caught with your hands in the jam, as they say, produced a resounding reaction from my superiors and the suspension from all activities.

However, later my ban was canceled; since I had been the only one to have succeeded in overcoming the defensive barrier, until then considered impregnable, I was also the only one able to take on the task of healing that system and making it inaccessible even to myself: even today I wonder who could have believed that I would have done such nonsense. Anyway, I went back to work surveilled by a couple of colleagues, so that I wouldn’t try consulting the database again, driven by the desire to track down the only person that mattered to me in the world: Greta Guarneri.

You may be wondering who the hell Greta Guarneri is. Before I tell you, however, I have to explain a few things, so that you may understand how and why I was catapulted into the middle of a story that you will struggle to believe true. The extraordinary facts that I am about to reveal involved a handful of very special volunteers, other than myself, and is a story protected by national secrecy. I’m writing it so that you may come to realize and may later take the necessary safety measures you need, having understood the reality that surrounds you, your life, and your future.

I will now tell you who Greta Guarneri is, but to do so I must go back to the time spent at the UBD center, when I was a child, before adoption.

I remember the segregation I felt during those years, the many hours studying and above all the exercises the teachers gave us. They called the exercises games, and we thought they really were. Today, however, I know that they were tests, scientific experiments designed to verify our attitudes, activities based mostly on memory and imagination but also on specific and rare capacities. We were studied, filed, and so called: Indigo children.

I have to admit that some of those games were pretty fun, especially the ones we could do in groups or in pairs. We had to analyze random information, re-elaborating it and reorganizing its data. In others we had to calculate the possibility that certain things could happen in the future. In one of the so-called games we used to play, we had to modify, move, and destroy an object, almost always distant and hidden from view.

I wasn’t good at any of those games, unlike some of my classmates who excelled. I had been taken to the UBD Institute at birth, after the DNA test had verified I was an Indigo child and, like all my companions, I had never known my biological parents.

Although I was a certified Indigo, my abilities were not exceptional. I couldn’t mind read, I couldn’t move objects, nor was I able to visualize remote places. My only skill consisted of a natural predisposition to logic and being able to use a computer without using a mouse, a keyboard, or any other input device. I was able to command any electronic computer with my mind and without touching it, even managing to alter codes in its software. It seemed like magic and maybe it was, and that was exactly why the government had forced my stay at the Institute.

In no way was my ability comparable to what other children could do. Greta, for example: a little girl with a developed emotional response and a sensitivity that only adult and expert mediums could boast.

Greta claimed she could talk to the dead.

I had personally believed her, even though her statement was astonishing, pushing many of our comrades away. Greta was also capable of telekinesis. She demonstrated this by drawing her teddy bear back to herself after having thrown it a few feet away; she did it just by staring at it. I wasn’t afraid of her magic, not only because I had seen her do it for fun, but because it was what she had always done to me, after all: attracted me by looking at me. I was in love, I was, from the first day I met her, and I loved when she stared at me in that strange way; I loved the way she drew me to her.

When an Indigo child turned twelve, he would leave the Institute to start high school and therefore was adopted. Usually a couple with no children was selected to come to the UBD and take one of the children, and from that moment every trace of the child would be lost. The fact that each of us was destined to disappear as we were adopted was the thing that created the most anguish. There was no one who did not fear the day of the twelfth birthday, because that day would mark the end of what was believed to be the only reason to live. The inevitable separation was terrifying because it suggested a future of extreme solitude, carried away by two strangers without knowing where and forever.

As far as I was concerned, the day of my adoption I suffered a great deal, but not for what I have just told you, or for the loneliness that came with being taken away: the real reason for my suffering was the certainty of never seeing Greta again. I was not afraid for my future or for my unknown adoptive parents—they were things that I didn’t think of in any way—my punishment was not being able to see her anymore.

As I was being accompanied to the Institute’s exit by the staff, I picked my bag up and went down the last steps to meet my new parents. The only reason I regretted leaving that place was because of her: the child who could levitate her stuffed animal and my heart. At that moment, perhaps for the first time, I felt the sorrow of separation, the pain of loss and the consequent melancholy for the loneliness that awaited me.

I was in love with Greta, I have said it already, and today I can profess it with even more reason. That day I took the memory of her bangs and the intelligence she had in her eyes with me, two inseparable things in my perception. The memory would have pushed me during the years to come to try to find her by searching for her in the databases of half the world. Ten years would go by before I was ever able to find her.

2.

Saudi Arabia. 24th September 2015.

United States Navy Commander Kevin Hutzler observed the fiery-sun-defined urban skyline from the hill northwest of the holy city of Islam. The city had changed from what he remembered it to be like the only time he had been there, during the great fire of 1997. It was still known by that name. More than three hundred faithful died in that tragedy, and the fifteen thousand policemen that were deployed in the area were not enough to keep everything under control. The fire that spread chaos among the pilgrims was set off by a simple gas can. The only comfort for those who had died because of the stamped was the thought that, having died at Mecca, they would gain direct access to Paradise, and that on judgment day, they would be among the first to resurrect. This was how the Koran reassured the faithful.

On that occasion, Commander Hutzler had been sent to investigate if the fire had been an intentional act, and his orders were to find out who was responsible for it, but, in the few days he had spent working with the local authorities, he had arrived at the conclusion that it had been an accident and nothing more.

Now, eighteen years later, new quarters and shopping centers had sprung up like mushrooms around the old holy city, a step away from the Kaaba, the heart of the Great Mosque. The city of Mecca had been distorted, its landscape radically changed by the new fast food joints, jewelers, and bazaars built for tourists in a consumerist impetus. The hills around the mosque had been leveled to make room for luxury hotels. From where Commander Hutzler was standing, you could admire the huge Royal Hotel Clock Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world.

Over the years, dozens of historical sites, including the prophet Muhammad’s birthplace, had been closed to prevent pilgrims from celebrating idolatrous rituals inside it and barbaric tourists from occupying it, choosing instead to build large highways to satisfy the needs of traffic that had increased a hundredfold in the meantime. Practically everything that Commander Hutzler was looking at from the hill was of very recent construction. Even the slums, where thousands of immigrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Pakistan were taking shelter, were new. They were filled with poor people seeking spiritual redemption and a job to survive.

After he had scanned every corner of the city long enough, Hutzler let the binoculars around his neck fall to his chest. He took a cigar from his breast pocket and cut off the end. Then he took the lighter. He offered a Half Corona to Sergeant Carlton, who was by his side supporting him, an Upmann; he took it, hinting a grateful smile and while looking at the Zippo that Commander Hutzler was holding.

“An Airborne Special Forces, I thought there weren’t any around anymore. Have you ever been to Vietnam, Commander?”

“Never been there. They sell them at the base; it’s just an imitation.”

Hutzler lit the cigar, letting the flame envelop it so it would warm up. He then took a drag and watched the embers become bright.

“How much longer?” he asked.

“It should be any moment now. As soon as Ahmed has assessed that the object has been loaded, he will notify us via radio.” Carlton tapped the receiver that he held on his belt.

“Ahmed…seems too young to be in command of any mission.”

“We need to settle with the local agents we were offered. What matters is that no one will care about what they do while we will be able to stay quietly aside, like good observers.”

“Everything appears simple, but why such a deployment of forces is needed remains a mystery,” said Hutzler.

“The drones?”

“Yes.”

“It’s normal routine. They are positioned twenty miles from here but unarmed and on standby.”

“And the Russians?”

“They monitor the operation from their satellites,” said Carlton, pausing to blow on his cigar. “Sir, could I ask you a question?” he finally asked.

The commander nodded.

“What exactly are we picking up?”

“I don’t know, Sergeant, and even if I did, I guess I couldn’t tell you. You know how these things are, but whatever it is, the United States has agreed with the Soviets and all the Arab states in the region.”

“I hope it’s not one of those damn Wahhabi bombs.”

“I would exclude that. In that case, Saudi Intelligence would send a woman to minimize any possible damage.”

Carlton chuckled, coughing smoke. “Yes, I’d prefer a woman blowing up.”

“Are you aware of what happened a few weeks ago?” asked Hutzler.

“I read the report, sir. If I may speak frankly, I’d say it wasn’t very clear, except that about fifteen people died.”

“Some workers were renovating the mosque. As they were restoring the tunnel, they found an object and while they were extracting it from under the floor, they must have messed up because they were all killed by touching it.”

“A bomb?”

“We don’t know.”

“Well, you said it’s not a weapon earlier.”

“I did; it’s true. What happened is strange and damn alarming, if you take into consideration that the mosque custodians rushed to warn Patriarch Kirill in Moscow, who then informed President Putin, who in turn agreed with President Obama. I, however, exclude that it could be a weapon, because in that case the Russians would certainly not have organized a joint operation. Let’s hope it’s not something worse.”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“That nobody knows what it is. All we know is it is extremely dangerous, and that is why we are all here together, with the task of extracting that thing, whatever it is, and taking it to Al-Ju’ranh, where a Geospatial Agency laboratory was installed to examine it.”

“And all this has to be done without attracting any attention and without annoying or alarming the faithful.”

“That’s right,” Hutzler concluded with a puff.

“What are the orders if any problem should occur?”

“Follow through. Do you know what the writing on my lighter says?”

Carlton, who was still holding it, examined it. “If you don’t know what hell is, fuck me and you’ll find out.”

“Exactly: It means that if that thing turns out to be a threat, we will have to intervene and make it harmless.”

“But what if the situation isn’t manageable?” Carlton insisted.

“Then I think we’ll both stop smoking.”

Carlton gave the commander his lighter. The commander chuckled.

“Nothing will happen; you’ll see,” he continued. “Here in the East you may find the strangest of artefacts every day. It will probably end up in some museum, like the others.”

At that moment the radio croaked and Sergeant Carlton answered the message in code.

“They’ve finished harnessing the object and are about to lift it, sir.”

“Good, as soon as it’s loaded on—”

A blast suddenly shook the mosque violently. Commander Hutzler and Sergeant Carlton were blinded by a flash of light and hurled to the ground by the explosion of a powerful combustion of subsonic energy.

As they stood up, they realized that the explosion had thrown them several meters away. Before they could grasp what had just happened, they heard a drone crashing behind them.

“What the hell is going on?” Carlton started to get up.

“Stay down!” Hutzler ordered him. “It may not be over!”

In fact, a second blaze went through the ether. The ground shook and an even brighter globe of energy expanded rapidly. Carlton and Hutzler remained crouched in the pit where they were, until they were sure that it was really all over.

When they decided to get up, they ran up the slope to see the city. Mecca was apparently intact. The houses showed no damage; only the sky was tormented by a reverberation similar to dawn, but it was already disappearing.

“Radio!”

Sergeant Carlton picked up the radio that had fallen to the ground.

“It doesn’t work! Damn, it’s as if the circuits have melted,” he swore. “Even the cell phone hasn’t got any signal; what the hell is going on?”

“That wave thing…did you see it? It didn’t make any noise, just a lot of light. What could have generated it?”

They observed the city again; everything seemed calm, but the clock tower was no longer lit and you could hear people shuffling, moaning and cries of pain.

“That way. Look, Commander!”

Hutzler took the binoculars that were still around his neck. Some electricity pylons were on fire and in the distance, you could make out a fiery line through the desert.

“I can’t see; it’s too far, but I think it’s the pipelines. They are on fire but…how is this possible?”

“We have to get down there and see what happened.”

Carlton ran to the truck that was parked behind a pile of rubble and tried to start the engine. He immediately realized that the vehicle wasn’t going to turn on. He opened the hood to discover that the electrical circuits were burned.

“Damn!” he exclaimed, slamming his fist. He was then distracted by the commander, who was shouting from the promontory.

“Commander,” he shouted. “We are stuck! The Jeep has gone, just like the radio and the cell phones!” Hutzler didn’t answer, he was frantically looking for something.

“Commander, we need to move!” Carlton went toward him. “We’ll have to walk.”

Hutzler was bent over the stony ground.

“Sir, Commander, what are you looking for?”

“My lighter, damn it!”

3.

28th September 2015.

The unthinkable had happened. The supply of electricity was completely interrupted and telecommunications had failed. The auxiliary surveillance systems had not had time to intervene, and this had imposed emergency work shifts at INRIA, the National Institute of Computer Science, to manually restore communications in the country as soon as possible.

Like everyone, I had believed that the blackout was limited to Paris, but as soon as the energy supply was resumed and the systems started working, the first analyses proved that it had involved the whole region, if not the entire national territory. The set of resources had failed for a good thirty minutes: communications had been interrupted; water and gas supplies suspended; security in public buildings, hospitals, and roads blocked. The national defense, rendered impotent due to the absence of any possible surveillance, had left the country defenseless throughout that period: something that had never happened before.

After the blackout, the newscasts had summarized the losses suffered with brief and reassuring reports, but it was clear that there had been more than what was being said. Dozens of planes had landed with makeshift landings; many people had had road accidents due to fires and floods. Some nuclear power plants had entered the state of protection due to serious cooling system anomalies.

The damages were of all kinds, but above all the transformers, those for industrial use and the most common in household appliances had been irreparably damaged. Millions of pieces of data, passing on the network at the time of the blackout, had been lost, and the financial world had stopped: even the Global Area, the largest network in the world, had given way temporarily. Only the less industrialized areas were saved from the disaster, the most remote ones such as the alpine or agricultural regions.

The thirty-minute blackout, in addition to causing disruption to the infrastructure, had also affected the most sensitive national security systems, and as soon as it was possible, the Ministry of Defense had therefore raised the state of alert to the most critical level. In itself this was only a duty, but the protocol contemplated directing nuclear weapons toward nations considered potentially hostile, along with the immediate closure of the ports and the deployment of forces along the borders.

As the news progressed, at INRIA we realized that the whole of Europe had taken the blow in an unruly and extremely dangerous manner. Before that, no one had ever thought such an uproar could have been unleashed by a couple of minutes of missing energy. As soon as the distribution of electricity was resumed and the various electronic systems had been aligned back with each other, the estimated damages did not cease to increase. Chaos persisted for a long time: Paris, above any other city, was vandalized for days.

Straight after the blackout, as the telephone lines came back on, I was urgently called back to work. I knew the procedure that followed a general alarm, even though I had never experienced it before, and I rushed to the National Institute by foot, avoiding public transport, as suggested by the protocol. I spent the whole day and the next night helping to restore the various connections, giving priority to those supplied to the army and the government network, in order to restore order and security in the country. At the same time, every available operator tried to understand what had happened, the reason for such a vast and unpredictable energy collapse.

When the entire network finally started working again, I turned my laptop on. Fortunately left off during the blackout, it had not suffered any damage. I then reactivated the dynamic doors, which I had scattered almost everywhere in the network, and began to probe in every direction in search of any trace that could explain what had happened.

In the great confusion that persisted while we frantically worked to solve everything, I found a moment to slip into a directory of the ministerial company: a restricted area of which, however, I knew the access to thanks to a friendly programmer. In that sector, email communications were collected without importance: junk texts often with malware attachments. I found a document in it, a file that should not have been there because the ministry ordered its automatic deletion and the activation of a spider to trace any copies and destroy them.

While examining the contents, which remained intact thanks to the half hour of computer darkness, I missed a correspondence that seemed to come from a source connected to the Kremlin secretariat. I certainly didn’t have the privileges to open that message, but it wasn’t a big problem. I downloaded the email on my laptop and submitted it to the care of DeCrypton, my picklock program, a copy of the software supplied to the army that I had cracked and modified for personal use: if it were known, I believe that a simple suspension would not have sufficed this time, to punish my crime.

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