Most who tell the story agree about how it started, but not where- some say Fargo, others, Des Moines. On a handful of computers in some high school’s library, clouds of gray and black pixels began flowing across their monitors until nothing else could be seen. Eventually, an overwhelming pressure behind the glass caused it to shatter, allowing clouds of virtual smoke to escape.
Within a matter of hours, every fire department in the world had been called in some capacity. Desktops, laptops, tablets, and even cell phones had been affected. If it could connect to the web, the smoke could find a way out through its screen. Landlines started seeing their first widespread use in decades, and word of what was going on began traveling from mouth to mouth: “the internet is burning.”
It’s unclear where exactly the blaze originated, or how it even came to be. Perhaps it was a bizarre act of arson, or perhaps some abandoned website simply caught fire after years without maintenance. What is clear is that once it started, it burned quickly and uncontrollably; an entire Library of Alexandria was lost every second.
Despite the constant outpouring of smoke, there were no witnesses to the fire itself. It didn’t exist anywhere physically accessible, and somehow, seemed to be contained entirely within the realm of information. For this reason, no water could reach it, and nothing could be done to prevent its spread. Mankind could only watch in despair as the sum of electronic knowledge was reduced to digital ash.
Decades later, whatever’s left of it all is still burning. Every now and then, someone connects a device to check, and sure enough, smoke comes billowing out of the darkness.