The SNW-2000 virus hit hard and without warning. The virus crippled infrastructure, baffled experts and anti-malware systems with its speed and efficiency. At first thought to be a DDoS virus, it quickly moved through smartphones, to WIFI speaker systems like the Echo and HomePod, before compromising servers, homeland security protocols, and crashing networks worldwide.
The results were catastrophic. Reports surfaced, of pasty thirty-year old men emerging from basements, ripping off VR goggles and blinking at the ball of fire in the sky. Children sitting blankly on floors, breaths buffering, staring at billboard-sized television sets, waiting for life to resume.
Far removed from the apocalyptic tech crisis was Della’s Diner. A low-slung, brick building with smeary windows and sticky counters, Della’s was perhaps best known for its cheap coffee and feisty namesake. A no-frills sort of place, Della’s was without a modem or even a television. Only the radio above the register. Eddie Fisher’s Anytime crooning through a crackle of AM static
A ding at the door, Clayton Mills came strutting inside, dabbing at his forehead. “That’s three miles before eight o’ clock, Dell.”
“Mr. Fitness is here,” Della grumbled.
Clayton absently snatched the well-thumbed AARP magazine wedged between napkin dispensers at the counter. He gestured over his shoulder. “There’s a hubbub going on outside. All the businesses are locked tight. Is today some sort of holiday I don’t know about?”
Della chuckled. The phone on the wall rambled. She snatched it on the first ring. “Della’s…Uh huh…oh lord…well…we only take cash anyhow, so…yeah okay…”
Clayton glanced at Peters, the only other customer at the diner. He had the sports section spread out and was poring over the box scores.
“Some sort of virus going around.”
Clayton backed off. “Yeah well, that time a year I suppose. That’s why I eat beets every day. Not much on taste, but keeps me healthy as a horse. Peeing like a geyser, too. That and the exercise. Just got three miles in, you know?”
Peters sighed. “I heard.”
Della hung up the phone and went for the radio. Beside it hung a sign that read, WE DO NOT ACCEPT CHECKS OR PLAY WITH BUMBLEBEES. Della fiddled with the tuner on the radio. “Anybody heard about the computers?”
Clayton, checking the pulse with two fingers on his wrist. “What about them?”
“Something’s going on with them. A bug or bot…it’s…I forgot what he said.”
Clayton shrugged. “My Casio works fine. Had for years. Just used it to do my taxes, matter of fact.”
Peters scoffed as he shook out his newspaper.
Clayton turned to the old gruff. “Got something to say about it, Peters? Yeah, so what it’s Japanese. So’s that Datsun truck of yours.”
“I mailed off my taxes weeks ago,” Peter’s replied without looking up.
“Probably wasn’t much to file,” Clayton muttered.
“Boys.” Della shook her head. “No, it’s something serious,” she said, turning to find a news station. Clayton kept his glare on Peters.
“Here,” Della said, turning up the volume on the news. “… infrastructure has been wiped out…it’s total chaos… the bots have infected devices…screens flashing blue before going blank…happening worldwide…streaming…broadband…the infection density function along with the distribution…”
Clayton scrunched up his face. “Hey Dell, think you can find an English-speaking station?”
Outside there was a crash. Della and her two customers turned to find a stampede emptying out of the Starbucks across the street. An aproned barista with a bluish pixie cut leaped through a broken window, the rings in her ears and nose glinting in the morning sun. Just behind her came a swell of bodies, a blur of rolled up jeans and yoga pants, well-groomed beards, tight plaid, stocking caps, falling into each other as the exodus flooded the streets.
The diner window framed the confusion. The street filled with screams, zombie-like creatures moaning and staring at devices and watches, colliding, tripping and falling and rocking in place then mumbling at the screens again.
Peters, who’d years ago navigated the Mekong Delta with a bullet in his calf, stood at attention, taking in the scene. “What in damnation?”
Clayton shrugged. He pointed to a body on a park bench, curled into a ball and sucking a thumb. “Poor girl, somebody should help her.”
“I think that’s a man,” Della said.
“With those little pants, the sandals?”
“It’s hard to tell over there.”
“Huh.” Clayton dabbed his forehead, turning from the window. “Well, I’ll have the eggs, I suppose. Over easy, Dell. With toast, please. And I’d better go wash up. Something’s going around.”