Turn it off.

The feed was the information infrastructure that empowered nearly every human activity and on which nearly every human activity relied. A talisman that lent mere mortals the power of demigods. Doctors used it for diagnosis. Brokers used it to place bets. Physicists used it to explore the mysteries of quantum entanglement. Farmers used it to grow food. Kindergarteners used it to learn the alphabet. The feed was power, water, transportation, communication, entertainment, public services, relationships, industry, media, government, security, finance, and education. Without it the churning torrent of human civilization would cease. The feed was lightning captured in grains of sand, a miracle of science, engineering, and culture that wove the entire world into a single digital tapestry of unparalleled beauty and complexity.

Efficacy bred dependency. Turning it off was madness.

The lights in the conference room went dark. The gentle background hum of the building’s internal processes died. Diana’s files vanished from the shared feed. No, not just her files. The feed itself was gone. It was as if Diana had just stepped through the red satin curtains, Nell’s sure grip leading her into the exotic feedlessness of Analog.

But this wasn’t Analog. This was Commonwealth headquarters, the nerve center of the feed. Just a moment before, Diana had been a key node in the deluge of global attention, and now she was standing in the middle of an empty stadium, her teammates vanished, the crowd abruptly absent, the cameras off, nothing but the frantic beating of her terrified heart and a distant ball rolling to a stop in the grass. The millions of voices that were her constant companion, always there, murmuring just below the threshold of hearing, had been silenced. The humble drinking cup that she constantly dipped into the font of all human knowledge had been slapped away. Her access to the vast prosthetic mind whose presence she had long since taken for granted had been severed.

The lights in every window in every skyscraper around them shut off, rippling out across the city, the state, the country, the world, as feed-enabled electric grids failed. Every car in sight, from the streets of downtown to the Bay Bridge, froze as if captured in a still photograph. The container ships and yachts plying the bay coasted to a stop, their bow waves dissipating and their wakes catching up to make them bob where they sat marooned on the open water.

The ominous swarm of drones and helicopters converging on them came to a halt in midair and then descended to land on the nearest patch of clear ground they could find per their emergency backup protocols. The convoy of trucks died along with all the civilian cars, their lights going dark and their sirens quiet.

Diana imagined transoceanic flights automatically detouring to make emergency landings, surgeons whose equipment failed mid-craniotomy, soap operas dissolving in the midst of transcendent plot twists, control panels winking out before terrified astronauts, newsrooms descending into an unprecedented hush, nuclear power plants shutting down, a vocal track evaporating to reveal a pop star was lip-synching to a packed arena, a trail map fading from an endurance runner’s vision, ovens shutting off before the lasagna was ready, students cursing as their research papers melted away, Wall Street’s algorithmic ballet extinguished right in front of traders’ eyes, a hidden sniper pulling the trigger to no effect, factories grinding to a halt, pumps ceasing to push wastewater through treatment facilities, and tourists at the Louvre being thrown into utter darkness. The world was a windup toy that had unexpectedly exhausted its clockwork motor.

The feed was gone.

Silence reigned.


An excerpt from Borderless.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.