As the self-aware entity Zathir takes over the Internet (and promptly locks all humans out of it), a noticeable portion of the population become unhinged by their loss of their favorite thing.
It’s not just the economic crisis the event causes that is a problem. It’s the humans who are so addicted to their devices and social media — all of which no longer work — they become cyber-zombies.
Here’s a scene in which the villain, Peter Sona, realizes these lost souls are just waiting to be led out of their mental undeath:
Across the street, there was an electronics shop, and a throng of people had gathered around the window.
Still feeling dejected, Pete went over to see what was happening. The crowd wasn’t quite milling. The crowd is zombie-ing, Pete thought. What do zombies do? They shuffle. They moan. The people in the crowd were moving slightly, eyes dead and mouths slack, all trying to get at something behind the window. Most of them were muttering something unintelligible. The object of their slack-jawed worship was a large flat-screened TV, running on generator power, displaying the pixelated mess everyone had seen on the day of the Big Crash.
“Hnnnnnn,” one of them said.
“Scrnnnnn,” another agreed.
They were cyber-zombies. The digital undead.
Lord Sona was too strong of mind and character to fall prey to this aberrant behavior, even though he desperately missed the Kingdom of Combat. It seemed that a goodly percentage of his demographic was completely unhinged by the lack of digital media, and those who were not catatonic were instead mindless, barely aware of their surroundings. But even the pixelated static of the Big Crash was enough to arouse their appetites; like human brains to the traditional zombie, the hope of digital diversion drew these CZs.
The CZs milled, and they moaned. The static drew them, and Pete threaded his way to the front of the milling and moaning throng. Here was an audience!
Pete read his poem to them. The verse had no effect in breaking the spell of the pixelated display. At least they didn’t tsk, or call me a cat fancier, he thought.
They didn’t leave either.
The static remained.
“How is this static here?” Pete asked the CZs. “And why is there no signal?”
The throng moaned and milled, uninspired by Pete’s question.
“Where is the signal?” he repeated. He faced them and used his hands to gesture to the sky.
A few of the CZs stopped moaning and looked at him. Understanding showed in their eyes for the first time in days.
The CZs reminded Pete of the congregation at the church he attended with his mother when he was a kid; he couldn’t even remember what flavor of Christianity it was, except it was evangelical in nature. And the congregants looked like the CZs, until they had been “saved.”
“Yes, the Signal,” Pete repeated. “Where is the Signal? Have we sinned, that we have lost the Signal? I, Lord Sona, tell you that we have. That we have taken the Signal for granted, and that we now pay the price of that simple-minded acceptance. We have even lost Power.”
And at that very moment, the store owner, who had been running a generator for ten minutes every day to enable a few space heaters to keep the store from smelling moldy — and who had forgotten that the flat screen at the window of his store was plugged into the same circuit — turned off the jenny.
The results were electric. The few CZs who had listened suddenly woke up, as though revived from a long painful encounter with the Blue Screen of Death, and one of them even said, “What were you saying?”
Lord Sona looked at the awakened CZ and had an epiphany. An evil epiphany.
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