Blue Across the Sea - Epilogue


May 13, 2039

“Hey dad, is the net down again?”

“Yeah, looks like. Six nines quality of service my ass.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, nothing. Give it a few minutes. We’re still using copper you know, no fiber to the curb in this town, yet. Why not just pipe it up through the G?”

“Tried that first. It’s down too.”


Humanity’s century-long love affair with electricity swelled to utter commitment when electricity’s child, the internet, emerged. Like an expanding fungal infection, the Net sent mycelium-like tendrils into every home, every business, every life on the planet. Instant data through virtual reality heads-up glasses and eye-contacts, device agents built into streetlights, cars and appliances, the phones, or “pocket-nocs” (Network Operation Centers) everyone still carried, all of this, providing a continuous neural electron pump in place of a brain-rattling opioid drip, drove anyone, at the mere hint of an outage, into a jonesing tantrum.


“It’s still not up, dad.”

“I said give it a few. It’ll come back. It always does.”


They would wait for more than “a few.” In truth, they would wait forever. This time it didn’t come back. This time their Internet-of-Things became a silent dead-eyed army, never to chime or beep or glow again: The family’s refrigerator never again automatically ordered more eggs and mayonnaise. Their media services ceased to fetch the latest VR movie. Their alarm system failed to flash its familiar green LEDs indicating all-secure. And their home-based artilect, Mavis, fell silent; her cheerful greeting when family members returned home, permanently silenced.

Their massively connected lives were terminated. The Internet delivered not a single packet more. Although the Internet wasn’t alone in its total failure, that was just how it started. In the suburbs, the cities, the towns, in their autonomous cars and buses, in their coffee shops, and urban office buildings; in their schools, in their homes and condos -- the Internet simply  quit. It quit like accounting forgot to pay the bill. Like the global billing manager flipped a switch and told everyone in the world, no-more-Net-for-you.

If being deprived of network connectivity brought digital oxygen starvation, what came next drained the very lifeblood of society.


“If the Net and cable are down and all our phones are cut-off, how do we find out what’s going on?”

“Well, there used to be this mysterious audio technology called radio…”

“Quit it dad, I’ve got homework to check-in, and my aug-reality project is sitting here on my studio. I’ve got to get it uploaded -- today.”

“Don’t get your wires all twisted, I’ll find the hand-cranked radio. I’m pretty sure it’s in with the camping gear in the garage.

“Honey, do you know if that wind-up radio is in with the camping gear or somewhere in the basement?


“Son, where’s your mother?”

“She said she was going to walk the neighborhood to find out what she could about the outage. Nobody’s phone works, but the power’s still on. Doesn’t that seem weird?”


“Darren, I’ve asked five people about our connectivity. They’re all wandering around the neighborhood, too, but nobody knows what’s going on. I hate being unplugged.”

“I think we can find out using this. I’ve got the manually- powered radio working. Listen, there’s a public announcement about some solar flare that happened about thirty minutes ago.”

“Are they saying that it knocked out the Net?”

“I guess. I didn’t think the comm-grid was affected by sunspots.”

“Dad, they’re called solar flares -- not sunspots.”

“Okay then, you took the class, what’s the difference?”

“A sunspot is just that. A spot on the sun. Sometimes those spots, which are weak areas in the sun’s magnetic field, can cause solar flares. And then sometimes solar flares are accompanied by...”

“Shhhh, the woman is saying something else now. Something about a CME.”









“CME? What’s a CME?”

“Remember, I wrote a paper about it. It a coronal mass ejection.”

“That sounds dirty. It sounded dirty back when you wrote it too.”

“Mom, this is serious.”

“Yes, I know, your project needs uploading. Well, I need uploading to the grocery story if what this announcement says is true.”

“You’re going to have to drive the BatBug then. We can’t call up a ride with our phones out.”

“Is the Bug charged?”

“... was yesterday.”


The serious nature of the coming events failed to penetrate the insular shell of placid communities around the globe, communities which had never experienced a “coronal mass ejection.” Indeed, humanity’s industrial society, racing along the information autobahn at ever increasing speeds, had never experienced a disruptive event of this magnitude. The one example, cited by astrophysicists, a massive CME that struck the northern half of the planet in 1859, resulted in beautiful worldwide auroras, and spurious messages and fires in telegraph rooms in the rare locations that they existed at the time. The world then, lit only by whale oil, communicated by a fleet of postmen on foot, in carriages, or as riders on horseback. In 1859, the electron had yet to be harnessed to do the pumping, grinding, lifting, moving, lighting, and communicating that it had, as of the moment when the BatBug pulled into the parking lot of the local grocery mart, a store bursting at the seams with PEOPLE WHO WOULD NOT BE HARMED BY THIS EVENT.


“Tara, hey, is this crazy or what?”

“Oh, hi Donna, yeah, is this all because of that radio message?”

“Well, that and what the CME is supposed to do to us.”

“You mean kill the power for a couple of days?”

“That’s what the radio said, sure. But Donny, my husband, says that a CME can do more than just knock out the electricity for a few days.”

“Like what? A few weeks then?”

“Well, I don’t want to alarm you, and this is just between you and me, but Donny mentioned a time frame more like years, maybe more.”

“Years! Are you kidding?”

“It’s possible he says, not likely, but possible.”

“Do all these people know this?”

“I doubt it. But I think we better stock up as much as we can. Did you bring cash with you?”

“Yeah, as I left, Kenneth said ‘Mom, you better bring cash in case the store’s networks are down’. We had to scramble to find what we could, I mean, who even keeps cash anymore?”

“I know. Well, let’s get in there.”


News eventually went out regarding depleted store stocks. Usually auto-ordered by inventory bots watching the levels of items in the store, low inventory orders had to be hand delivered to local warehouses. But, by the next day most stores had replenished the balance of their stocks. The networks, however, remained inoperable.

The timing of the CME’s arrival had been calculated down to the minute. All electric utilities in the northern hemisphere, those operating generation plants, had been instructed to disconnect from the main power grids approximately one hour before the plasma wave of the CME was to strike. Some connections could not be suspended.

In the end, it didn’t matter.

From vast photovoltaic solar farms to armies of wind turbines, from hydroelectric generators to nuclear, gas, coal and liquid fuel electricity generation plants, none of them escaped the tremendous currents that ended up being induced by the geomagnetic storm. A storm that was about to descend upon a technologically dependent, naive and unprepared global society.


“Whoops, there goes the power.”

“That means it’s starting.”

“The sun storm?”

“Yeah, the magnetic storm NASA said a few days ago would hit us.”

“When I was at the store, Donna said it might take longer than a week to bring the power back up.”

“Well, if we use our dehydrated camping food, we have food and water for about a month.”

“She said it might be longer than that. Maybe much longer.”

“What does that mean, ‘much longer’?”

“I don’t know, forever? Darren, do you still have ammunition for your rifle?”

“It’s a shotgun, honey, remember? I used it when I shot trap. Sure I think I’ve got a few boxes stored in the closet. Maybe 75 rounds. It’s birdshot, though, tiny pellets.”

“You could still use it to protect us, couldn’t you?”

“Oh, it’ll do some damage, for sure.”

“Is it enough?”

“Enough for what?”

“I don’t know. Enough to save us.”


As the enormous wave of charged particles slammed into, and then through, the Earth’s ionosphere, the planet’s weakened magnetosphere tried to direct the onslaught around to the far side of the world. “Weakened,” as the geologists and geophysicists had been detecting a slow change in the dynamo that was the magnetosphere -- the poles of the earth, they said, were attempting to flip.

There in the ionosphere, as the energies interacted with the oxygen in the air, the skies began to glow and shimmer with dancing bands of aurora. Trails of green and faint red lights, thousands of miles long, undulated like dying cobras, their agonizingly slow writhing in time with the pulses of intense direct current being induced on the sun-facing side of the globe.

The tsunami of geomagnetic energy enveloped every high-tension power cable. This induced massive direct currents, energies similar to a Mt. Olympus-sized battery, its terminals short circuited into the wires of the world. As those currents traveled through those wires they terminated in the centers of transformers and generators that formed the hearts of the Northern Hemisphere’s power generation system. The intense arcing power, swelling with each pulse of the solar storm’s internal variation, fused the generator coils with molten nodes of boiling copper.

This eventuality met, then exceeded, the expectations of what the astrophysicists had predicted. Transformers, connected to long antenna-like power lines, fused and became ton-sized hunks of useless metal. They thought where disconnects could be performed, the transformers could be saved. What they did not predict, however, was the intensity of this particular CME, nor the intensity of the one that would follow on this one’s scorching heels, a mere sixteen hours later.

What should have passed undamaged, local city and neighborhood transformers, did not. Why? What the experts never considered were the massive induced electrical currents in vast networks of wires, wires both for electricity as well as communications, coiling and lacing through office buildings and industrial buildings across the continents. They never realized that these currents would not only strike like lightning bolts down into building’s basements and into internal power generation systems, but, also, that these geomagnetically induced currents would generate so much resistive heat that the wires would melt, glow and catch fire. Lengths of wire, tens to hundreds of meters long, acted to conduct the relentless direct currents into fragile areas. Combustible areas. Wires got red hot. Embedded incendiaries that stitched the entire world together, smoldering. Igniting.

Thousands of buildings, in all the cities directly impacted by the first coronal mass ejection, caught fire and burned. In normal cases, one burning building per city, maybe two, easily exhausted local fire departments. But dozens of burning buildings resulted in conflagrations blasting through all the cities in the western half of the northern end of the planet with no hope of being extinguished. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Quebec, Washington DC, Mexico City, Seattle, and Miami stretching over to Oahu and Kauai -- all blazed in unstoppable infernos.

Even in the suburbs and rural areas, where the wires were long and strong enough, high temperature sparks arced out through thinly clad insulation igniting fires in homes and buildings.


“Do you hear that?”

“That popping sound?”

“It sounds like firecrackers out in the street.”

“Firecrackers pop, this sounds more like a buzz-crack.”

“Well, whatever it is, it’s freaking me out.”

“Let’s go take a look.”

“Holy shit! It’s the powerlines, their crackling.”

“If the power’s out, but the wires are all juiced up, what does that mean?”


“Dad, you need to flip the circuit breakers, all the wires are getting hot, but I think the wires outside are gonna get hotter.”

“Oh man, the circuit panel is burnin’ up, run and fetch me a pair of oven mitts.”

“There. All off. I don’t think that will do anything, but at least we shouldn’t get that weird crackling coming inside.”

“Son, what’s going on here, what is all this about?”

“It’s the CME, dad, it’s charging all the wires. You know how the charging paddle for the BatBug doesn’t actually make direct contact?”

“Right, induction charging”

“Exactly. The CME is doing that to all the long wires. All the wires everywhere and inside everything. But instead of charging a battery, the current that’s inside the wires is turning into heat.”

“Is this going to go on all day?”

“No, I think it only lasts a little while.”

“This is what NASA was warning us about, right? This is why the power is off.”

“Yeah. This is why. But from what I remember reading, normal wires aren’t supposed to react like this. I think this CME is much bigger than what NASA predicted.”

“Well, the power is off at least for a week. No work for me. Of course, I haven’t worked for months. But no school for you. And mom won’t be working either. Sounds like a mandatory holiday.”


With no one realizing it at the time, communities across the continent unwittingly descended into the new dark ages. Some radio stations would eventually return online, at least while their generators held fuel to burn. But for now, only a silent sputtering whispered through the speakers of those seeking information on the devastation slowly spreading across the land.

For the few towns and hamlets that had escaped the plasma wave induced fires, those first nights blossomed with celebratory spirit. Bonfires and street parties erupted in cul-du-sacs and parks. The local police had been briefed on what had occurred in the larger cities and tried to send their folks back to their homes, for safety reasons, but the people failed to listen.


“Whatever money you had last Thursday, that’s how much you are ever going to have. All the banks are dead.”

“We’ve got over eighty thousand in the bank, what do you mean they’re dead. How do I get that money out?”

“You don’t. Nobody does. All digital wealth is gone. Wiped out.”

“What? That can’t be. What about our 401k? Our investments? Everybody’s investments!”

“Gone. Wall Street is toast. There’s no power in any of the cities. And most of the cities are probably burning anyway. There’s no way to restart the internet, the computers, the exchanges, the brokerages, nothing, every digital dollar is gone. Vanished.”

“And our insurance? Our mortgages? Our credit cards?”

“None of those companies exist anymore. How can they? They relied on electricity to run their businesses and the Internet to communicate.”

“Holy shit, I’ve got to sit down.”

“I know, it’s a lot to take in. It’s overwhelming.”

“I’ll say. Every account anyone had anywhere, they’re erased?”

“Well, not erased, the data still exists. If the electricity were to magically come back on tomorrow, the Internet could start back up and we’d be back to where we were, mostly.”

“But the power is not coming back on?”

“With all these fried wires? I doubt it. I’m pretty sure the double CME that hit, the last one striking yesterday on the far side of the planet, wiped out the possibility that we can ever recover. Those CMEs were huge.”

“Son, ever recover?”

“Well, I’m speaking probabilities here. But from what we know about the impact the first CME had on us here…”

“Wait a minute, there was a second solar flare?”

“Maybe, but it’s not the solar flare that was the problem.”

“Right, it’s the geomagnetic pulse wave thingy.”

“Yes, and the reason I know there was a second one was the aurora we saw yesterday.”

“Ah, the light show. I thought that was from the first wave.”

“No, the show we saw yesterday must have been from a second wave that hit. Europe is history. China, India, Russia. I doubt they survived.”

“We’re doomed then.”

“Yeah, doomed is a good word. Well, not a good word. But, yes, we are most likely doomed.”


When the power went out. Everywhere. All at once. A chain reaction began. It started with the fact that most people’s money ceased to be. Most people’s wealth had been virtual wealth stored as data in computers. If you can’t run the computers because you have no electricity to run them... Even if you could power up one computer, or a building full of them, the wealth of people existed more as a set of digital promises. Some banks were able to use internal electricity generators to temporarily reboot operation. And those banks released hard currency to account holders they could identify. Yet, like a run on a bank, there’s only so much physical money available. Most wealth sits on hard drives in data centers around the planet. In them, reside the promises of real wealth owed. Few people realized that the cash they possessed in small nest eggs or emergency funds, at the time of the calamity, represented all the money they owned. Period.

For a time, this cash was useful. The promissory notes dollars embodied, continued to retain value for people who hoped for a return to normalcy. But, with such a small supply of actual cash, the practice of barter sprang up almost immediately. Those who had extra “these,” traded with others who possessed extra “those.” Batteries for candles. A bicycle for a camp stove. Fuel for flour.

Yes, fuel did exist, petrol mostly, for months, for a price. With battery powered autos being the recent standard, few people possessed internal combustion engine cars, except as curiosities. Many folks had roof-top solar systems that could charge their battery-powered cars. The solar storm damaged a large portion of these, yet, scattered across towns and suburbs, hundreds of electric cars remained operational for years after the catastrophe. However, generators to power refrigeration, lighting and water pumps required liquid fuels. Fuels like gasoline, kerosene and diesel -- stored in tanks as national reserves -- represented only a few days to a few weeks of supply. Without the people to run the refineries, people who were busy trying to protect their families in the chaotic aftermath, those distillation plants ceased operation and fell silent. Generators everywhere, dependent on such fuels, began to fail by autumn. By winter, fuel of any kind, flowed only for the hoarders and thieves.

Dozens of industrious teams of mechanical and electrical engineers across most countries attempted to repair generation facilities in hydroelectric, wind and solar plants. Only a few succeeded. The destructive force of the currents induced by the CMEs infiltrated the massive transformers and generators rendering most of them inert heaps of wound copper and aluminum. Society’s enclaves, where power was restored, enjoyed a limited return to what, colloquially, became known as The Before. Their respite lasted just as long as their food.

Of all the luxuries the first world enjoys, ample and continuously available food ranks number two. Clean water being number one. During strong seasonal storms the power can go out for weeks at a time. And in the nations of the world where electricity attained the status of a right, not a privilege, one could always depend on finding somewhere to buy, or be given, enough food to eat and water to drink. The source of such a luxury emanated from a vast network of farmers, processors, transporters, warehousing and delivery agents and payment systems. Systems glued together by communication and financial networks to hold it all together. It was a nutrition generation engine of massive proportions -- with the one critical component of this engine being electricity. Eliminate that and the mechanism seizes and grinds to a screeching halt.

In the countries most impacted by the failure of the electricity grid, warehoused food ran short within a month. The world’s militaries, their National Guards, worked valiantly to deliver what stores governments stockpiled. Yet, such reserves had never been meant to feed whole nations; feed cities and states, yes, but they were never meant to sate tens of millions of ravenous people. The Corps held the peace as long as they could. However, they, too, eventually disbanded, their individual appetites failing to be met.

The armed forces dissolution marked the crack in the dams that had been nations. Famine being the underlying cause of the failure.

Hunger riots destroyed humanity’s dwindling sense of brotherhood. Altruism surrendered to animosity and aggression. A family’s next meal might depend on basic survival instincts: selfishness, theft, kill or be killed. Starvation invaded the lives of those who had never known privation. Ironically, there existed tons of privately held food, grain and stored reserves in warehouses dotted around countrysides and urban outskirts. Those who knew of them formed coalitions of control doling out buckets of wheat and corn in return for ammunition and alcohol. The foodstuffs within these reserves, however, remained sequestered by those who begrudged others a meal without equivalent exchange. In many, desperation engendered greed. For lack of transportation and the rule of law to see it distributed, the grain failed to save millions who died needing just a few cups a day.


“Tara, we can’t stay here.”

“I know. There are too many folks all scratching at the same patch, hoping to find food.”

“We should head to the coast. Maybe setup at the mouth of a river.”

“That’s nearly a thousand miles!”

“We could go east. Fewer people, but less chance of finding food. I hate to say it but we’re going to have to pretend we’re original natives and figure out how to gather, fish and hunt.”

“There’s no pretend about it.”

“No, there isn’t. We’ll rig up the Batbug to charge from a solar panel. We’ll strap one to the roof.”

“The bug won’t fit four of us and carry all our stuff.”

“We’ll rig up a trailer to hold our gear. And, we can take turns driving and walking.”

“Darren, you’re proposing that we walk to the coast?”

“The bug’s battery will last longer if we go slow, stop and recharge during the day.”

“It’ll take weeks to get there. Months!”

“Tara, we can’t stay here. We can’t go north or south, there’s no opportunity for collecting any kind of food that way. East is barren.”

“Well, then, let’s tell the kids.”

“I think they already know.”


“Daddy, I can’t leave Ditto.”

“Honey, the cat will be better off living in territory that’s familiar to her. She knows where there’s running water. And she knows how to hunt.”

“Why can’t we bring her. She doesn’t eat much and, and it would be cruel to leave her.”

“She’ll need to stay in a cage all day. She’ll have to be let out on a leash, which you know won’t work, otherwise she’ll run away during our first stop. And it may take us a long time to get where we’re going. I think it would be more cruel to bring her.”

“I don’t care. She’s the only one who loves me. And, and, she won’t run away.”

“I won’t win this, I know. But look at me and tell me you understand the risks.”

“She won’t be any trouble, you’ll see.”


“The trailer is packed and ready to go. It gave us plenty of room for our camping gear and a few boxes of mementos. I’m sorry we can’t take more. But, better to bring food than furniture, water than widgets, tools than toys…”

“Will you be serious, Darren.”

“Tara, I’m just trying to soothe the loss we’re all feeling.”

“I know, but let us feel the loss just the same. Goodbyes should be somber things.”

“Okay, but a mile down the road the dreary duo’s doom dissipates,” Darren alliterated.

“Enough already!” Tara demanded, brushing her blond hair back from her face.


In a few months, medium and large cities bled thousands of people as resources dwindled. Few had transportation aside from handcarts and bicycles. Some still possessed privately-owned battery vehicles and left with those. Internal combustion autos and trucks were abandoned, as, by the second month, all available fuels were fanatically guarded, being used only for generators. By mid-autumn folks gave up hoping that government, any government, would rise from the ashes to reestablish services, order and the rule-of-law. Those small communities that had banded together early, held fast. Their solidarity most often stemming from a cache of grain and fuel or other survival resources, like ammunition. Thousands of others abandoned their cityscapes and went off trekking, family by family or more insidiously, as gangs of vicious outlaws.

Depravity and malevolence rose like festering buboes on the skin of society. In a land based on trust, when that civil agreement collapses before oppressive power, tyrants reign and only equal force can withstand them. Fortunately, witless tyrants, fighting over scraps, like feral dogs over roadkill, tend, in time, to effectively eliminate one another. Unfortunately, those left to feast on the remains are often the most malicious of the pack. In a land based on trust, where forgiveness for offense underlies that trust, such folk, who believe in that trust, become easy prey. Thus marks the collapse of society. And so it became, across the whole of the northern hemisphere, that fall and winter.


What of the southern hemisphere? Their infrastructures were intact, their power systems and governments had not collapsed. Where was their charity, their relief, their compassion? At first they responded valiantly, determinedly. The numbers, though, were overwhelming. Ships bringing supplies that docked in northern ports were overwhelmed. Riots and mayhem consumed the aid relief. These ships, as well as every other container and passenger ship available, were conscripted into service as refugee transports. Tens of millions of people invaded the southern countries. A mass exodus, unknown in the modern era, descended upon Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, and others. And still more came fleeing the maelstrom of dying societies in the North. So many in fact, that, in the south, collapse occurred there, too. Sickness swelled the hospitals and camps. Food and water vanished into the mouths of hundreds of millions seeking asylum from the terror enveloping the top half of the planet. The fact was plain, the southern hemisphere could not, could never, sustain the population of the north. When just six or seven percent of people tried to escape to below the equator, the south couldn’t handle it. It, too, failed.


“I’m sorry, dear. Ditto is a smart kitty. She’ll find a boyfriend out here, and catch mice and drink rain water. She might even find a nice warm home where she can stay.”

“But daddy! Daddy! She was all I had.”

“When we get to the coast, there will be so many kitties that people have forgotten, we’ll find another who needs a little girl to take care of. Which kind do you think you’ll see first?”


“Darren, all the campstove fuel is gone. And we haven’t seen another soul for two days. This road, what is it again?”

“It’s the interstate that leads to the coast.”

“Well, this road sucks. I hate it!”

“Hey, I’m amazed that we’ve gotten this far. We’re nearly half way.”

“It’s been a month of hell! And now it’s getting cold. And I, I…”

“Here comes Kennie, and look, I think that’s a goose he’s carrying.”

“A goose! God! Can’t we find something normal to eat?”

“Good job, Kenneth! Was it hard?”

“This? No, this part wasn’t hard.”

“What was hard then?”

“Getting away from them.”


“They’ve been following us for a week.”

“Honey, maybe they just want company on the way to the coast.”

“Are you really that naive, Darren?”

“Remember me? I’m the one trying to keep everyone’s spirits up.”


“Give us ya car and we’ll give ya back ya girl here.”

“Okay, okay, please, you can have the car, but leave us enough to camp with, at least.”

“And we want the gun, too.”

“We need that to survive!”

“It’s a hard world mister. And it’s gettin’ harder.”

“Darren, give them the gun.”

“Damn! You know you’re probably killing us by leaving us here with the snow falling like this.”

“So, you wanna die sooner?”


“Darren, Karina is freezing to death. We can’t walk any farther down this damn road!”

“I know. I know. I see some smoke coming from over that hill. I’ll tell you what. Let’s just stop here for now. We’ll go beg at their fire for whatever those people can offer and we’ll just stay here.”

“Dad, I see someone waving at us from that hill.”

“See, honey, it looks like they want to help.”

“My god, Darren, how did this happen to us?”

“I don’t know dear. The world, the world is broken now.”

“Was that a sign back there. What did it say this place was?”

“It said the place was called ‘Murtaugh’.”


Author’s Note

The town names used in this novel are fictional but are based on those found around the Great Basin of the United States.

The astrophysical and climatological phenomena portrayed in this novel are real. The Bonneville Inland Sea (Lake Bonneville & Lake Lahontan) has existed in the past and most likely will exist again in the future. The prior instances of this sea were the result of melting glacial ice sheets from the last ice age. The refilling of the Great Basin due to climate change, over centuries, is not beyond the realm of possibility. This author has taken liberties with the extent and boundaries of the sea.

The Earth’s sun, Sol, has and will again emit coronal mass ejections that have struck and will again strike the earth. Modern technological society has never experienced a CME of the size or frequency mentioned in this story. Such CME’s exist. One, according to NASA, missed the Earth on July 23, 2012 -- by two weeks. That geomagnetic storm, as determined by experts in the field, might have cost $2.6 trillion and taken more than two years for human society to recover.

This author would point out that what is unknown is the extent of damage a massive CME would have on the systems and wires of our everyday connected life. At this point, no one really knows.