This and The Rise of New Athens are companion pieces of Theory-Fiction written in collaboration with Adam Jesionowski. Initiated from the same prompt they cover the pessimistic and optimistic cases for break-off communities respectively.
Alan was having coffee on his porch when the Internet ceased to be. The prairie remained the same so he only learned of this three days later, when Martin came to pick up a freezer’s worth of bison meat.
“How’re the New Athens boys takin’ it?”
“As you’d expect. Grand speeches about seizing the moment. Ten different five year plans competing for fifty men.”
“And the rest of the world?”
“From what little we’ve gotten on the shortwave…” The crinkling of the skin around Martin’s eyes was too subtle for any webcam to pick up, but told Alan everything he needed to know.
“Guess I’ll clean my guns tonight.”
Here’s what happened: while tripping on a cocktail of half of PiHKAL, members of haxxl0rds.RO collectively hallucinated buffer overflows afflicting most of Cisco’s catalog. In short order every Cisco router on the planet found their routing tables replaced with the Chinese characters for “die gwáilóu scum.” Unamused, a Mossad contractor replaced all Huawei firmware with the text of the Declaration of Independence. Lacking any connection to its command servers, the Chinese APT malware living in Siemens power transformers shrugged and directed 180,000 volts into sensitive control equipment, darkening the power grid. All available X-37Bs were scrambled to knock out Russian communications satellites, the debris of which did not discriminate in picking off the rest. The global web shattered into patches, the final act of the Communications Age.
He woke up in a cold-sweat. Again. Fumbling his eyes into the green haze of the 𝙳𝙴𝙲𝙲𝙰 𝙚𝙡𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙧𝙤𝙣𝙞𝙘 𝙘𝙡𝙤𝙘𝙠 𝙧𝙖𝙙𝙞𝙤, 04:57, not quite sunrise. Throwing the sheet back and getting up, he pulled up the blinds to reveal the darkened yard below with the expansive plane of darkness beyond.
He could see rather a lot from the third floor, which consisted solely of his pokey quarters–a privilege of his early adopter status. The kettle rising with a quiet rumble, it’s tiny red L.E.D. clearly the cheapest possible clumsily fixed in the plastic casing. Walking fingers across the crate, a record was set upon the player. The amp was activated with a satisfying electro-static thud and quickly set to low volume. The kettle, now in it’s post-bubbling stage, was poured into the cafetière along with the stale pre-grounds.
Distant sounds of conversation came from the yard and subtle steps vibrated through the wooden frame of the house. The sun was ignored as it filled the room in good time. Pages flick, notes scribbled, keys typed. The record had long since spun to completion and was now simply making a hollow plasticity click-clack in rhythmic timing as the arm jostled back and forth, the motor still running.
Ssss-wtpp — twak twk
Ssss-wtpp — twak twk
Ssss-wtpp — twak twk
Peter finally had his flow interrupted to answer a knocking at the door of his quarters.
She was frustrated and not in the mood for conversation.
“Are you coming today?”
“You can’t do this everyday, despite everything.”
“I’ll be down at noon.”
“How can you be like this after what has happened?”
Peter knew of a handful of ‘situations’ she might be invoking.
“Have you not checked your connection this morning? We had to find out over the radio for fucks’ sake.”
Peter now remembered his phone had been awfully quiet.
Peter hadn’t left his quarters for roughly 48 hours. Having done no labor work this week he had a fair amount of time to make up for the project. The house he was in was one of the project’s half a dozen ‘purchased’ through various means. One bought outright, a couple were half-rented, various personal loans taken out by citizens…
Peter pulled on his boots, rattled down the stairs and made his way out to the yard. Rows of tilled earth on one side and an untouched crust of earth on the other. One citizen was sprinkling the worked earth with a frugal stream of water as another was wrestling with the surrounding enclosure.
Peter heard a voice behind him: “Nice for you to show up.”
Suzie Jones was around 5" 9" with fern green eyes and dark brunette hair worn in a ponytail. Originally from Wisconsin she had a determined demeanor and was of above average attractiveness by Peter’s estimation. This was no arbitrary detail when it came to forming splinter communities such as New Athens, which had a male to female ratio of roughly 5:2. This was far from balanced but for communities in it’s class this was fairly healthy. Frankly, the female population ratio happened to be directly correlated with not only the success rate of on-boarding new citizens but also the hype surrounding a community. Other groups had tried to mandate a 1:1 ratio, but for a meaningful level of growth this always needed to be diluted.
Suzie was a prominent citizen of Athens. Practically minded, appointed the role: “Vanguard of Agriculture”. A grandiose title for the modesty of the sufficiency projects she lead, but nonetheless she took the operation seriously.
“Right. You can start tilling the other half of the yard.”
Everything to do with sufficiency was a thankless task, Athens was no way near meeting the investment cost for the project, let alone the ability to avoid outside deliveries. Like most initiatives based on the supposed virtue of “sustainability” the project was a funding, time and effort sinkhole. It’s minutiae-dodging proclivity was quietly detested by most citizens, but most where not openly critical. Every citizen not of “Vanguard” rank was allocated a number of labor hours to fulfil each week. However, this by no means meant that each citizen did the same amount of work.
“How are the miners?” asked Peter. “Cooler.” replied Suzy.
The constant sounds of a Pagan wind, expenditure of energy thrown at mathematics itself. Rows of RTX 3070s upon mishmash motherboards clinging to existence with SCRYPT algorithmic utility, beyond this Antminer S16s were busy pressing SHA-256 into the fabric of reality. Nailing time as a fixed point, block after block. The hum of a perverse means of production when assumed connection arbitrarily became closed. The blocks unaccepted, the hum merely the product of a temporary thaw when the fans came to a halt. Time became a flat circle.
Roughly 2.5 ZettaHash’s worldwide collaboratively contributing to the security of the crypto-libertarian wet dream. Hashrate plunged to an unobservable 0, not from loss of computational capacity but as a result of communicative silence. The implied connections suddenly unusable, implying the evaporation of the network with it.
“We simply have to hold fast and wait it out.”
Jason Haywood was an impressive man, standing at at least 6" with well-groomed blonde hair, he always had a way of authoritatively calming nerves in times of crisis. However, something about this time felt different.
“Every citizen needs to do their part by not panicking, it won’t be that long until everything is back to normal. Just a couple weeks of locking down.” Jason was the “Founder” of New Athens but managed to evoke a sense of flat hierarchy in his interactions with the citizenry.
A panel of the great and good of New Athens sat on the rickety stage at the back of the makeshift gathering place, dubbed: The Pnyx. This was essentially a four-posted building without walls. Flanking Jason at the table above the citizens was Diego Brown, not the co-founder of Athens but the “Vanguard of Community”. The original ‘second in command’ had been ousted roughly a year before and was only ever mentioned privately in hushed tones. Diego was essentially a replacement co-founder who never detracted from Jason’s will, unlike his predecessor.
The panel was opened to the rest of the citizens for questions, objection and comment. The floor of The Pnyx remained silent and nervous, as the start of any opening up to an anxious audience does. Suzy stepped out from around Peter, raising her hand.
“Yes, the honourable lady.” exclaimed Jason.
Suzy lowered her hand resting it on her hip as her other arm moved in expression of her statement: “So after years of underfunding the sufficiency projects that’s the plan? After obsessing over crypto, which now can’t be moved, that is our plan? doing nothing?”
Diego took the floor in an attempt to quash the dissent: “The sufficiency projects have been shown time and time again to not be worth the investment. Things will go back to normal and the funds will be moveable again. Regardless, it’s not like we’re the only ones missing out on blocks!”
“We should be taking this as a sign!” Suzy responded “A signal that we need to be getting out of everything, naturally Amazon is going to be cheaper than our projects! Which is all well and good until it’s no longer there.”
Jason took to his feet: “We need to have further input on this. Whether we continue with the sufficiency projects, or we refocus back to being a digital-first community.”
Suzy’s side of the room, the generally ‘pro-analogue’ citizens, were in abject uproar.
The vote went 36-32 for reducing the time and monetary funding to sufficiency projects in favour for holding the mining equipment in anticipation for the network to come back.
A miasma of sunlit particles reacted to as the door of the shed swung open. The stifling heat, trinkets and tools would have made the place seem claustrophobic if it weren’t for the liberating breeze of the prairie behind Alan. As he stepped in his hand moved over the switch to his right, each lamp in entropic sequence blinked and then lit.
Posters where lined upon the benches in frames, but not hung NEW ATHENS, white text. Various faux-art-deco illustrations. Well preserved, that is, if they where actually from the era they attempted to imitate. Alan stood over the benches and checked the indicators for the solar.
Martin was standing at the shed door.
Alan checked his 6: “Martin… afternoon, did the hinges fit?”
“Good enough. Well, the wife. Didn’t notice.”
“…can I help you?”
“Freezer. The game, you still got some?”
“Sure, a moment.”
Martin drifted over to the benches.
The insignias, lanyards and paraphernalia projected a dark glistening which was still beyond the range of Martin’s adjusting eyes.
“Most of it.” Alan picked up a red badge, held it up to the lamp above and moved it between is thumb and forefinger. “Guy up in Washington wants to buy the whole lot”.
“No… Guy, his name is Guy. Runs a museum or something. Calls it: Guy’s Workshop of Fallen Americana. The posters are going to Greece. why did you come, again?”