When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

He opened a chat:

> Stop probing my server

He expected bluster, guilt, denial. He was surprised.

> Are you in the Front Street data center?
> Yes
> Christ I thought I was the last one alive. I’m on the fourth floor. I think there’s a bioweapon attack outside. I don’t want to leave the clean room.

Felix whooshed out a breath.

> You were probing me to get me to trace back to you?
> Yeah
> That was smart

Clever bastard.

> I’m on the sixth floor, I’ve got one more with me.
> What do you know?

Felix pasted in the IRC log and waited while the other guy digested it. Van stood up and paced. His eyes were glazed over.

“Van? Pal?”

“I have to pee,” he said.

“No opening the door,” Felix said. “I saw an empty Mountain Dew bottle in the trash there.”

“Right,” Van said. He walked like a zombie to the trash can and pulled out the empty magnum. He turned his back.

> I’m Felix
> Will

Felix’s stomach did a slow somersault as he thought about 2.0.

“Felix, I think I need to go outside,” Van said. He was moving toward the airlock door. Felix dropped his keyboard and struggled to his feet and ran headlong to Van, tackling him before he reached the door.

“Van,” he said, looking into his friend’s glazed, unfocused eyes. “Look at me, Van.”

“I need to go,” Van said. “I need to get home and feed the cats.”
“There’s something out there, something fast-acting and lethal. Maybe it will blow away with the wind. Maybe it’s already gone. But we’re going to sit here until we know for sure or until we have no choice. Sit down, Van. Sit.”

“I’m cold, Felix.”

It was freezing. Felix’s arms were broken out in gooseflesh and his feet felt like blocks of ice.

“Sit against the servers, by the vents. Get the exhaust heat.” He found a rack and nestled up against it.

> Are you there?
> Still here—sorting out some logistics
> How long until we can go out?
> I have no idea

No one typed anything for quite some time then.

Felix had to use the Mountain Dew bottle twice. Then Van used it again. Felix tried calling Kelly again. The Metro Police site was down.
Finally, he slid back against the servers and wrapped his arms around his knees and wept like a baby.

After a minute, Van came over and sat beside him, with his arm around Felix’s shoulder.

“They’re dead, Van,” Felix said. “Kelly and my s-son. My family is gone.”

“You don’t know for sure,” Van said.

“I’m sure enough,” Felix said. “Christ, it’s all over, isn’t it?”

“We’ll gut it out a few more hours and then head out. Things should be getting back to normal soon. The fire department will fix it. They’ll mobilize the army. It’ll be OK.”

Felix’s ribs hurt. He hadn’t cried since—since 2.0 was born. He hugged his knees harder.

Then the doors opened.

The two sysadmins who entered were wild-eyed. One had a tee that said TALK NERDY TO ME and the other was wearing an Electronic Frontiers Canada shirt.

“Come on,” TALK NERDY said. “We’re all getting together on the top floor. Take the stairs.”

Felix found he was holding his breath.

“If there’s a bioagent in the building, we’re all infected,” TALK NERDY said. “Just go, we’ll meet you there.”

“There’s one on the sixth floor,” Felix said, as he climbed to his feet.

“Will, yeah, we got him. He’s up there.”

TALK NERDY was one of the Bastard Operators From Hell who’d unplugged the big routers. Felix and Van climbed the stairs slowly, their steps echoing in the deserted shaft. After the frigid air of the cage, the stairwell felt like a sauna.

There was a cafeteria on the top floor, with working toilets, water and coffee, and vending-machine food. There was an uneasy queue of sysadmins before each. No one met anyone’s eye. Felix wondered which one was Will and then joined the vending machine queue.

He got a couple more energy bars and a gigantic cup of vanilla coffee before running out of change. Van had scored them some table space and Felix set the stuff down before him and got in the toilet line. “Just save some for me,” he said, tossing an energy bar in front of Van.

By the time they were all settled in, thoroughly evacuated, and eating, TALK NERDY and his friend had returned again. They cleared off the cash register at the end of the food-prep area and TALK NERDY got up on it. Slowly, the conversation died down.

“I’m Uri Popovich, this is Diego Rosenbaum. Thank you all for coming up here. Here’s what we know for sure: The building’s been on generators for three hours now. Visual observation indicates that we’re the only building in central Toronto with working power—which should hold out for three more days. There is a bioagent of unknown origin loose beyond our doors. It kills quickly, within hours, and it is aerosolized. You get it from breathing bad air. No one has opened any of the exterior doors to this building since 5:00 this morning. No one will open the doors until I give the go-ahead.

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