Connection Lost (xxvii) (fin)

During the next ten minutes, Alan managed to ascertain that his family was safe; the guy’s name was actually Tony; and everything was going to be alright.

Then Alan spent a few solid hours just watching the blikenlights: checking his eMail, backing up his thesis, playing Minecraft, reading old XKCD. By the time the sun’s chariot was on Route 128 and heading home, Alan had managed to wrap his head around what was going on that day.

When the sun had set the mid-street nerds all unplugged and went over to Killian. There they were joined with hundreds, maybe thousands of other people. Most were MIT. Some were just from the area. Some weren’t from anywhere near the area. They’d gone looking for MIT, they’d gone looking for anything, they’d just ended up there for one reason or another. For one of a thousand different reasons. The worst was over: now everyone had their story to tell.

And they told it. One after another. One over another. They couldn’t stop. None of them could. They just talked. And Alan just wandered around and listened. He couldn’t not.

He heard stories of bravery and of cowardice, of genius and stupidity, of kindness and cruelty, of desperation and of determination. He heard stories from graduates and geriatrics. He heard about kids who made breakthroughs in scientific theory and professors who saved lives with hammer and saw. He heard about things people had done alone, and what people had accomplished acting in groups, together.

An adjunct professor of nuclear engineering had lead the team which got the reactor up and running. At one point a faulty connection had put them in danger of meltdown. He had managed to avoid, not only a terrible accident, but also the necessity of a reactor shutdown. His strategy was sufficiently innovative that he was already in contact with the DoE concerning its general adoption. They said they’d give it strong consideration – and told the army not to let him anywhere near so much as a AA battery.

A lab tech had overheard a bunch of people talking about power generators. He was the one who had the idea to form up a bunch of different teams and compete against each other. Three lab PIs had taken a week to come up with what the criteria of judgment would be. By that point they already had more than eighty wind turbines up and running. Some had been made, by genius or necessity, in the most curious shapes. A few of these were sufficiently innovative as to warrant further study by scientists. His management of the scientists had earned him an honorary MBA.

A compsci grad student had managed to set up a local area connection of over two thousand computers before it went down. From studying the subnet’s crash he was able to draw conclusions that allowed him to bring up the entire MIT subnet, and keep it up. He had already been flown to an undisclosed location, though the gossip was he’d had a major impact in bringing the internet back up. They were speaking of him in reverent tones. They were talking about how glad they were that He had been at MIT.

A kid from the creative writing program had set up a site on the MIT subnet through which people could upload their stories, their tales of what-they’d-been-through, what-they’d-seen, what-they’d-done. Now that the internet was back up it was being hotlinked on the main FEMA splash-page. It had gotten a few hundred million hits in a day; servers were being seconded to its service as fast as they could come back online. The kid had had a Google Analytics ad on the top of the page for about six hours before they made him take it down. Over those six hours he’d made enough money that he looked like he’d just walked into a wall.

A professor had fallen off the Mass Ave while trying to rig a wind-sail. One of his grad students had jumped in after him and saved him.

A group of Longy students had biked up to Lexington and talked a riding center out of a team of horses. They’d pretended to be doctors. They were good pretenders. They’d ridden the horses back to Cambridge, made a cart out of bicycles and two-by-fours and improvised some yokes out of duct tape. They’d spent the next two weeks riding all over Boston, moving from aid station to aid station, busking. They called themselves the Horse Theives. They didn’t have the internet to check if the name had been taken before. They’d built a fan base of tens of thousands. They knew they’d get a record deal as soon as there was someone to deal with. And a way to record.

Harvard Divinity students divided the city by region, drew lots among themselves, and went off to preach on the streets. As a result there were some very strange conversion clusters in the 617. Including Catholics in Newton, Jews in Southie, and atheists pretty much everywhere else.

A single woman had trained more than a thousand Harvard students into EMTs. She had designed the curriculum to suit the situation: training started at dawn, certification happened at dusk, then the newborn med-techs went out on the street to work. She’d trained hundreds a day, there on Harvard Yard. She herself was a freshman. She was studying studio art. She didn’t mention that.

Several acting troupes materialized as if life from the primordial soup, such taht Davis Square had a different play every night. Most of them were exceptionally risque, and so it was for the best that their candle-powered lighting kept all but the first few rows from actually seeing the stage.

The art history department at BC took over the MFA, the Gardner, and the the Peabody Essex. Scarf-wearing hipsters holding golf clubs were all that stood between the treasures of the world and creative appropriation. Thanks to their efforts not a thing was stolen. Although most of the Chihuily sculptures were smashed. For aesthetic reasons.

Ten days into the blackout the Yale football team showed up. They’d walked to Boston from New Haven with their gear in duffel bags over their shoulders. They’d had a game to play. They came to play it. They dropped their gear on the football field, slept under the stars, and in the morning the Harvard team found them doing wind sprints in the mist from off the river. They shook hands, they flipped a coin, they beat Harvard by a margin expressable only using scientific notation. They walked to the river and bathed under the sun. Then they put their gear back in their duffels and started back for New Haven.

A mixed Harvard/MIT group had dressed up like pirates, broken onto the USS Constitution and raised sail. They were last seen leaving Boston Harbor and heading for the open ocean. Earlier that day there’s been a tweet: “Internet’s up. But so’s the wind.” They hadn’t been heard from since, nor were they expected to be.

An enterprising young Robin Hood had gotten together some Merry Men , likewise some ski masks, and had broken in to a tony liquor store downtown. They’d robbed-from-the-rich about a hundred thousand dollars worth of vintage Champagne. The cops had come and chased them off. When they came back for another pass they found that the store had been emptied out by casual passers-by. Concluding that The People deserved a drink about then, they decided to go from store to store and deliver its contents to the masses. They’d break into a packie, drink the best, box the rest, and put the boxes on the sidewalk. The police had better things to do than deny people tipple. Also they didn’t want to mess with what had grown into about a hundred large drunken alco-libertarians. For a few weeks Boston was an open-air night club for any who wanted it. Now there was hardly a drop of liquor to be had from Alewife to Braintree. Boston hadn’t been so dry since the Pilgrims.

One of the rhinoceri in front of the Harvard anthropology museum disappeared. It was melted down and cast into one thousand perfect scale replicas of the original, which were then stacked in a pyramid on the empty pedestal. MIT students were presumed involved on the circumstantial evidence that only they could possibly be so god damned meta.

A boy wearing a yellow bandana and holding an empty 40 of malt liquor had a circle of admirers around him, most twice his age, some very conspicuously leaning on automatic weapons. It seemed he’d been the one to figure out a way to clear the streets of crashes and stalled cars. He’d overheard some army guys bemoaning the clogged streets, so he’d five-fingered paper and pencil from a stationary shop and made some sketches freehand. He’d shown them to the soldiers. They’d talked it over and agreed. They’d pinched two heavy snowplows from a Public Works shed, plugged a Mig welder in at the nuke plant and welded them to the front of the tank. Then they’d driven up and down Memorial Drive plowing cars off the road and into the river. When it proved a fit solution to the problem they’d passed it on by radio. They were finding out that the idea had made it via short-wave all across the country, into Canada, down to Mexico. Somehow in that long game of telephone everybody knew that this kid, this fourteen-year-old Richard Leibowitz, had been the origin of the idea. What they were just now finding out was that he had also been the one driving the tank.

Alan came upon a knot of girls wearing red coats. He looked from face to face but none was the girl he had seen. He recognized one of them, a second-year envirosci named Nadi who wore her sexual orientation on her sleeve.******** They were standing around laughing like comrades-in-arms. They had managed to find beer. They weren’t the only ones.

Alan walked up to her. He tried to think of some introduction besides oh-hey-I’m-your-TA. But then she saw him and smiled that big broad smile, that smile that everybody seemed to be wearing. And she gave him a big hug. And she introduced him to her friends.

“You didn’t see the Red Coats?” she asked him, seeing the look on his face.

“Red coats?” Alan asked weakly.

“Yeah! Oh, boy, did you miss out. These Radcliffe girls started it. Don’t know how big it got – we’ll find out, I guess – lots of us, jesus – but man, jesus, what a great fucking idea. There was this clothing store in Harvard Square – hipster place, fucking manatee on the sign or something – and right before Lights Off they’d just gotten this ridiculously huge shipment of red coats.” She gestured to herself. Of the other five girls, three were wearing the same exact jacket. It didn’t fit any of them terribly well. “Anyway. Yeah. So when the cops opened all the clothing shops – that was like, what, day three? – these Radder chicks all got dibs on these red coats and said they were the Red Coats. Like the British. You know? Kind of a joke. Sort of. Anyway. They got a bunch of condoms and morning-afters from all the drug stores and started handing them out at the Squares. Got more girls to join in. Went all around. Just walked the streets. Did counseling, showed people how to use condoms and stuff. Lot of people thought it was the end of the world and had been fucking everything. God, it was wild. Some crazy shit. Oh, jesus though, I’m fucking glad we did it. Fucking amazing.”

“Fucking amazing,” said one of the other Red Coats.

“I want to keep doing it,” said a girl in an inside-out red Harvard hoodie.

“So fucking cool,” Nadi said. “So. Fucking. Cool. You didn’t see us?”

“No,” said Alan.

“Didn’t see one of the safe sex demos at Kendall? Fucking too bad, man, your fucking loss. Those things were wild.”

“You were wild,” said Inside-Out Hoodie.

“I was not! I was. Yes, I totally was. You didn’t see it?”

Alan shook his head.

“Jesus. Well, yeah. Fucking awesome.” She took a gulp from her beer. “What about you, Mr. TA? What did you do?”

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~ by davekov on 29 December 2011.

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