To say I remember the day vividly is to state the obvious.
Of course I remember it. Moment by moment.
We all do.
But I was there.
I was there that day . . .
The day the Internet exploded.
We were called in, the experts.
Of course we knew it was about time to move the Internet. The process was already underway . . .
EFFAY: Again . . .
ZILCH: I guess so. We’ve been through this how many times?
NADA: Every time we build a new container, far huger than before, we say, “That should do. We’ll never fill it this time.”
EFFAY: But here we are again.
ZILCH: And so soon.
We were all assembled. Doctors Zilch, Nada, myself and all the others. We’d been dealing with emergencies like this since ’94, back when the Internet was contained in an old barn in Tennessee with a double layer of used aluminum haphazardly tacked over the sun-dried planks. The urgency, the tension, were familiar now. It was Nil who called us all in, and he looked worried. Sweat beaded on his upper lip.
NIL: Gentlemen, thanks for coming. It’s worse than we expected. How long before the new containment centre is ready?
ZILCH: Two months. We might be able start channelling overflow in as little as three weeks.
NIL: How much can we hold in our current emergency overflow allotments?
NADA: Look, what’s this all about? Last I checked, the levels were stable. And the new containment centre is getting finished ahead of schedule.
EFFAY: And under budget.
NADA: So what’s got you so wound up?
NIL: They’ve got Twitter.
ZILCH: God help us.
NADA: We’re fucked.
How could this happen? Didn’t the Chinese know we couldn’t accommodate them now? As long as there had been an Internet, China had been censoring everything flowing through their sector. All our formulae and predictions for growth depended on that censorship continuing. And for China to suddenly lift sanctions without warning us!
NIL: We don’t tell them much. The technology is top secret. If they knew, they could build their own Internet.
EFFAY: Imagine: China with an Internet of its own.
NADA: Well, that would be better than what we’ve gotten ourselves into now.
NIL: It’s too late to point fingers! Just tell me how we fix this.
ZILCH: Let’s check the levels.
From that second, we knew there was no hope. Already the container was bursting at the seams. The overflow channels were full, carrying the excess data away as fast as possible, but the emergency facilities would soon be full and backing up.
ZILCH: If we built a channel to the new facility, do you think . . . ?
NADA: It’s too late for that!
EFFAY: If we censored content . . .
ZILCH: Make an announcement. Have the president tell the world to only use the Internet to send and receive important emails.
NIL: It’s already been done. It had almost no effect.
ZILCH: God save us.
NADA: We’re fucked.
No one moved. There just didn’t seem to be any point.
We stood there waiting for it. Paralyzed.
Waiting for the Apocalypse.
What was the final straw? I wish I could say it was a profound thought. Or something beautiful. A piece of art or music, maybe.
But to say so would be a lie.
In all likelihood it was Madison Wright, a high school girl tweeting about her math teacher: Mr. Fitzgerald has gross coffee breath. Or perhaps it was Joe Novak, uploading a shirtless picture of himself drinking a can of beer at the cottage. It was going to be his new profile picture on Facebook.
It doesn’t matter how it happened — it happened.
And the Internet exploded with the sound of a million porn stars screaming in fake orgasm. The noise was deafening. But it brought us out of our stupor, and we rushed like mad away from the bedlam as everything the Internet once held spilled out into the world.
ZILCH: Come on! This way!
ZILCH: Follow me.
ZILCH: I knew it would end this way.
EFFAY: You mean . . .
ZILCH: Not exactly like this. Not today . . . but I knew.
As we ran for our lives up countless levels, I remembered images — snippets from our flight.
Tom the custodian: drowned in the puke from every YouTube video people made of their friends watching 2girls1cup.
Wendy: seared by one of the laser beams ricocheting off the Star Wars kid’s lightsaber.
ZILCH: That’s why I built it.
EFFAY: Built what?
ZILCH: The rocket. Call your family. Call everyone you care about. Tell them where to meet.
Marc, in logistics: stabbed and robbed after trying to help hoodlums disguised as Nigerian heads of state. Maybe he got what he deserved. I mean, who still falls for that scam?
Dylan the programmer: found himself in the middle of a flame war and combusted spontaneously. The roar of the fire and insults erupted so suddenly it was hard to tell what sparked it — a discussion of the top ten anime of all time, I believe.
ZILCH: We’re getting close! Don’t look back.
Not many of us made it. Those who fell behind — Samantha, Henry, Iris who answered the phones — were all lost. The cats got most of them. A hundred million felines, suddenly free, no longer forced to endure the humiliation of playing a keyboard or being dressed in absurd outfits, turned on their tormentors. The cats devoured everything in their wake.
The rocket was in sight, a handful of us racing towards it. Our lungs burned, every muscle screaming with exertion. But we couldn’t let up, not for a second. Zilch stumbled. Two of us stooped to help him up.
ZILCH: Go on without me!
NADA: We can’t leave you behind!
EFFAH: We’ll make it together.
We struggled forward. The chaos the Internet had unleashed was gaining, almost on top of us now. But there was the rocket. We had made it to the launch pad.
NADA: Pull yourself together, Zilch! We’re almost home free.
ZILCH: No . . . it’s too late for me.
EFFAH: What do you mean?
ZILCH: Virus . . .
NADA: You mean . . .
We looked down at his body. Already the skin was covered in bumps, with more appearing every second.
ZILCH: I don’t have much time.
EFFAH: Don’t say that. We’ll get you to the rocket. Together, we’ll —
ZILCH: Don’t you see it’s too late for me?! Get on the rocket with the others. The launch sequence is pre-programmed. All you need is a password. The password is . . .
NADA: Focus, Zilch! The password! The password!
ZILCH: badboys . . . all one word . . . lower case . . . now go!
EFFAH: Dr. Zilch . . .
We raced up the steps to the relative safety of the ship. The others who had made it this far were already inside. Nada rushed to the cockpit, entered the password.
The countdown was short. Just enough time for us to strap ourselves in. I pressed my face to the window for one more look at the world we knew. Dr. Zilch was looking up at the rocket with a resigned expression on his face. The next second, a pop-up burst through his skin, and then another one. The virus had done its work quickly, without mercy.
The massive rockets fired up, sparing Zilch from the final agonizing moments of his affliction. He was reduced to ash in the blink of an eye. Annihilated. Still, I choked on tears as the one who had engineered our escape expired just short of salvation. Then the full thrust of the rockets was unleashed, and we blasted into the atmosphere. We were saved.
* * *
We live on the moon now. At night we can look back at the Earth, a layer of green algae growing on top of the lifeless oceans.
We saw what the Internet had done, and we chose not to revive it.
But sometimes, when we sit around watching Dr. Nada’s slide shows from his vacation — a hundred pictures of the Sea of Tranquility — I remember with fondness a time when I could just quickly scan through them on Facebook.
And without Wikipedia, I find myself unable to answer questions that once seemed so trivial. Like, how old would Jay-Z be had he survived to this day?