Fifteen year old Zac Hudson woke up that day as he had done for at least the previous ten years of his life at seven thirty. His school uniform had been laid out by his bed by his own personal robot. At precisely eight o'clock the toaster and kettle automatically switched themselves on, and five minutes later the robot began preparing breakfast. At ten past eight the television turned itself onto one of the many interactive channels, and the hologram of a woman proceeded to inform Zac and the rest of the family of the time, the top news events of the day, and then finally informed them of the local weather conditions. It was set to be a bright, sunny, early autumn day in the huge, sprawling metropolis that was New Manchester.
Zac followed his father into the garage. Nick Hudson was a man in his late sixties, but he barely looked forty. The reason for this was that like the majority of older people he underwent frequent de-aging programs, which ironed out his wrinkles, returned his hair to its youthful thickness and body, without a single grey hair in sight, and insured that his fitness and agility levels were those of a thirty five year old.
This de-aging process was universally offered to everyone over the age of fifty, and could be obtained on request by the age of forty. The de-aging programs meant that the average life-span was well over a hundred. In fact it had become commonplace for people to live to the age of one hundred and twenty, and still only look about fifty when they died. It was thus Zac had never seen a real old person.
"Get in the car, Zac. I'll take you to school," Zac's father told his son as they entered the garage.
Zac jumped into the passenger seat, and was automatically strapped in. His father got in the driving seat, and the car strapped him in too. Nick Hudson told the car the school's coordinates, and within minutes the vehicle was speeding towards its destination on auto pilot. Zac had been told by his grandfather that once, many years ago, cars had to be driven along roads by a driver, but it seemed odd to him that a car should need a driver, and the idea that cars could only travel along roads was also strange to him. Zac watched his house and neighborhood become smaller as the car soared high into the clouds, and seemed to follow an unseen motor way in the sky.
When Zac arrived at school he was immediately handed his own personal computer, which was small enough to carry in his coat pocket. His computer was meant to assist him during most of his lessons, and also reduced the amount of time real teachers were needed in the classroom. Zac himself had considered becoming a teacher when he was older, for although many of a teacher's duties had been taken over by computers and robots, they still had a real job to do.
It was better than his father's job. Nick Hudson worked in an office for two days a week. He was not needed for the rest of the week. Zac's father spent most of his time playing virtual golf. There was not a lot else left for him to do. And yet despite his humdrum existence he did not question the status quo. No one in this society seemed to question the status quo except for a few eccentrics. The majority of people were content with their existence, for most people's lives were exceedingly comfortable, they did not have to think about anything much or deal with any of life's challenges. And as the difficult tasks were handled by computers and robots, it left them a lot of leisure time.
Zac enjoyed being a teenager though, he had a great group of friends, and his life, though not hugely eventful, was a happy one. Every day after school he would spend time with his friends. Sometimes they would visit each other's homes, or occasionally they would visit the local shopping mall, which like most modern malls had at least one cinema, a theatre, bowling alley, ice rink, indoor tennis courts, swimming pool, virtual rides, a virtual zoo, and of course an almost endless array of restaurants and shops.
That day after school, he had arranged to catch the sky bus to the mall with his friend Luke Healy, Bobby Simpson, Zoe Gardener, and Kirsty Walker. The journey was a short one, not more than about ten minutes from school to the centre of town.
Suddenly and inexplicably the sky bus stopped.
"Hey, what's going on?" Zoe shouted.
"The bus has stopped," Bobby said somewhat obviously.
"I'm scared, the lights have gone off, and it's gone very quiet," Kirsty exclaimed.
"We're losing height!" Luke announced.
"I think we're going to die!" Kirsty screamed.
"No, we're not, listen I can hear what sounds like the engine starting up again!" Zac told his friends reassuringly.
Moments later the lights on the sky bus came on again, and soon they were on their way once more to the mall. Zac and his friends could not have realized that the incident they had just experienced was to mark the end of an era for them.
Once at the mall the frightening incident with the sky bus was all but forgotten as the friends enjoyed watching an interactive three dimensional movie, followed by bowling and a delicious Mexican meal at one of the many restaurants in the mall. Finally satisfied and happy the teenagers caught another sky bus and headed to their respective homes.
The next day the morning routine was repeated in exactly the same fashion as the previous day, and Zac had no reason to suppose that this day was going to be any different to any other day except perhaps a fleeting impression that all of the computers and robots in the house seemed to be working more slowly than usual.
When Zac arrived at school his first lesson was interrupted by several of the computers in his class shutting down and refusing to start up again, much to the annoyance of the teacher and his robot assistant. During the second lesson even more of the computers shut down, and by now comments were starting to fly round the classroom.
"The computers are taking industrial action, Sir! They want more money for their services," chuckled one boy.
"Maybe they're becoming lazy like us humans," a girl laughed.
However, by the afternoon the teaching assistant robots stood still and immobile in the corner of their classrooms, and students as well as teachers were starting to become anxious. The teachers continued their lessons as best they could without either computers or assistant robots, and strove to reassure their students that all was well.
"I'm sure it's just a temporary glitch," Mr. Linkner, Zac's math teacher informed his class.
Then suddenly at ten to three in the afternoon every single machine or piece of technology in the building stopped working. This included lights, automatic doors and walkways, elevators, televisions, central heating, vending machines, refrigerators and freezers, ovens, phones, computers and robots. At first there was an awareness that some of the technology had ceased to work, but within twenty minutes it became apparent that every single item of technological equipment had stopped functioning.
Zac was growing more anxious by the moment. He listened carefully for the sound of equipment coming back to life, but there was nothing.
"Can you hear that?" he asked his friends.
"Hear what?" Luke replied.
"That's what I mean. All I can hear is silence," Zac cocked his head to one side, as if trying to listen to something.
Zac's friends, Luke, Bobby, Zoe and Kirsty listened too.
"That usual background hum you can hear all the time has gone," Zoe noted.
"There's just ... silence," Kirsty said fearfully.
"Now please don't panic!" the teacher tried to urge his class.
But it was no use now, students were filing out of the classroom into the hallway. It was dusk and the light was fading rapidly. Half the school seemed to be congregated in the dim hallway. People were trying to make for the exits, however all the automatic doors were closed and refused to open.
Students began throwing chairs and other heavy objects at the doors. At last the glass was smashed and people were able to escape. Zac too clambered out of the entrance together with a tidal wave of students from his school. It was a relief to be outside in the open air. He took several deep breaths and looked around him, all of his friends were standing nearby. Zac turned to Zoe, who was nearest.
"I'm going home!" he exclaimed.
"You can't! Look over there towards the residential zone. The whole place is on fire!" Zoe said pointing in the direction of all of their homes.
Zac squinted. "Oh, my God! You're right, Zoe, the entire area is on fire!"
"What are we going to do now?" Zoe said, trembling.
"We should get away from this place. If we head out of the city and away from the fire that's engulfing everything, we should be safe," Zac suggested.
"Okay, I'll get the others together," Zoe nodded, heading off towards, Bobby, Luke and Kirsty who were in a small huddle nearby.
Once the teenagers were together they set off reluctantly towards the far hills.