“Hey. What the hell’s wrong with the Internet?” Nick clicked at his mouse while Aaron changed channels.
“Reddit’s down,” Nick said. He squinted at the screen, but the image didn’t change. His fantasy football forum was gone, replaced by a black page with a wall of text. No matter where Nick clicked, he got the same thing.
“Yeah, come look at this,” he said. “Whole site.”
With an exasperated groan, Aaron levered himself off the sofa and plodded over to the computer. It was still early yet, not even noon. Nick was pretty sure Aaron was supposed to be in class, but he tended to have a laid-back attitude to things like attendance and homework. Their senior year was still a couple of years away, and neither of them felt any real need to push things just yet.
Aaron slurped at his coffee as he leaned over Nick’s shoulder. Nick thought about suggesting that Aaron maybe start showering again, but they’d had that argument already this week and he wasn’t eager to re-kindle it. “The hell is that?” Aaron asked.
Nick dropped into his bookmarks and pulled up another site, a basketball blog that he made daily visits to. It, too, was blacked out. Just some plain white text and a video, nothing else. He clicked over to his favorite webcomic, and got the same thing. “See?” Nick said. “All the good sites are blacked out.”
“What’s SOPA?” Aaron said.
Aaron pointed at the screen, at the word that dominated the center of the blacked-out page. “SOPA,” he said again. “And PIPA.”
Nick clicked into his search bar. “Lemme wiki,” he said. He dashed the acronym into the bar and stabbed the Enter key.
They both stared at the screen. “Well, hell,” Aaron said. Like the others, the screen was blacked out, though the image they used was a lot nicer. “And here I am with a term paper due.”
Nick looked up at him in disbelief and Aaron shrugged. “It could happen,” he said. He took another loud sip of his coffee, patted Nick on the shoulder, and went back to the TV to channel surf.
The blacked-out screens annoyed Nick. He stared at Wikipedia for a while and finally clicked one of the links they had provided for more information. Finally he got to a page that had something he could read. It was all about the mystery words SOPA and PIPA, and he read for a while. He opened up a few more tabs for a few more pages, and then watched a short video.
After about an hour of reading and following links, he got up and joined Aaron on the sofa. “So,” he said as he sat down. He grabbed the remote from the cushion and started flipping through channels. “It looks like this SOPA-PIPA thing is some new law that they’re gonna use to shut down the Internet or something.”
“Yeah?” Aaron kept his eyes on the TV.
“Something like that, yeah. It’s kinda confusing, but this law would let, like, the movie industry close down blogs or other web pages whenever they wanted to.”
“Yeah.” A lot of it was still a little shaky in Nick’s mind. It had something to do with overseas websites, and he got kinda tangled up in the talk of ISPs and DNSs and things like that. But the basic message sounded pretty clear: these laws would hand tons of power over to big corporations that they could use like a hammer, any time they wanted.
“Hey,” Nick said. “You have any idea -”
He stopped flipping through the channels when he saw the strange silver-haired man in a robotic half-mask being interviewed on CNN. “The hell?” he said. He turned up the volume.
“…have to understand, I’m here to save you all!” the strange man was saying. The text at the bottom of the page wasn’t helping any. It just said, “Visitor From the Future?” at the bottom.
A reporter off-screen asked, “What are you here to warn us about?” There seemed to be a small crowd, and the familiar dome of the Capitol building was in the background.
The man certainly looked out of place. He was older, heavyset, with a shock of white hair that stood out from his head like it had been hit with a ton of hair gel and then baked. His skin was pale and heavy and there were dark circles under the eye that they could see. The other half of his face was covered by a shiny gold half-mask, with a red jewel where his eye should be.
He was dressed in what looked like skin-tight Spandex that shimmered and twinkled in the sunlight. It was uncomfortable shades of purple and green, with a bright red cape that had a high gold collar that almost came up to the top of his head. The effect was of either a madman, or a villain from some old sci-fi movie. He held up his hands, and the left one seemed to be wrapped in wires and plastic tubing that all led to a device on his wrist. “Please,” he said in a cracked voice. “You must listen to me!” The reporters quieted down, but the flashbulbs kept popping. “Thank you,” he said.
Nick turned up the TV and he leaned forward to watch. Aaron ran back from the kitchen with a bag of potato chips and dropped back into his seat.
The man took a moment to compose himself before he spoke again, and this time hs voice was stronger, clearer. “I know this will be hard to believe,” he said, “but I have come here – from the future!” The flashes went mad and the reporters started shouting questions again, but he held up a hand until they fell quiet.
“I have come here from the year 2256,” the man said, “with a mission that I hope – I pray is successful!”
He half-turned and pointed his gauntleted hand at the nearby Capitol dome. “In that hall,” he said, “in a few days, your leaders will vote on two bills that could mean life or death for the people of the United States.” He turned back to the cameras. “Those bills,” he said, “are commonly known as SOPA and PIPA, and they…” He looked at all the cameras and took a deep, nervous breath.
“It is imperative that they pass and become law.”
He waited for the barrage of shouted questions to stop, but they didn’t. The reporters had waited all they were going to wait, and they all insisted on being heard. In their living room, Nick and Aaron were staring at the TV, held in rapt attention even though neither of them had any idea what was going on.
Finally, the man stepped back, letting the cameras capture his full frame. “Look at me!” he shouted. He kept shouting it until the reporters listened.
He looked like an old man, a football player who’d let himself go for years. His shoulders slouched, his belly strained at the shiny purple tunic he wore, held back by a belt made of some kind of gold leather. What could be seen of his face was blotchy and red, with bushy black eyebrows sprouting more hair than a younger man’s should. If he wasn’t in his seventies, he was getting close. “Look at me,” he said again, and this time his voice was plaintive and sorrowful.
“I’m twenty-three,” he said.
The cameras flashed, but this time the reporters were silent. The time traveller stepped back to the cameras, his eye downcast. “In the future,” he said, “the internet is a thing of wonder. It’s so much better than yours in the same way that your Internet is better than cave paintings. We use it every waking moment. Many people go in and never leave.” He sighed. “People don’t go anywhere anymore. No one goes outside, no one does any exercise – we have brilliant virtual lives while our real-world bodies collapse around us.” He gestured to himself. “I’m twenty-three, and my body is already done.”
He looked up at the cameras, and his face turned to rage. “We let ourselves decay,” he said, “but it doesn’t have to happen!” He gestured back at the Capitol again. “You’ve probably heard a lot about how those two bills, SOPA and PIPA, are going to kill the Internet, and I’m here to tell you that’s the best thing you can do!” He started coughing, and it racked his whole frame.
“The scientists of our time have searched and studied and found that this – this is the moment where everything can change! The internet is a monster,” he said, his voice raspy and full of rage. “It’ll destroy us all unless Congress does what needs to be done! Put a stake in its heart and save the world, people of America! Save the world!”
That was as long as the reporters could stay quiet. They surrounded him, pressing him with questions that he couldn’t start to answer. They kept pushing and yelling and waving microphones until it seemed that the time traveller would be crushed under the weight of their assault.
And then one of the reporters, a young woman with blonde hair and a designer overcoat, said to her cameraman, “Hey. Wait a sec. Doesn’t he look like Chris Dodd?”
She had spoken quietly, but her words shocked the crowd into silence. The camera held steady on the man for nearly a full minute before someone said, “Holy crap. It is Chris Dodd!”
The man held up his hands and tried to back away. “No no,” he said. “I’m from the future!” He waved his hand again, dangling the wires and tubes as if they were proof.
Then the half-mask slid from his face and landed on the cold ground at his feet. He looked at the reporters. They looked at him. There was a single camera flash.
“Well. Fuck,” he said. He reached into his pocket and threw something to the ground. A cloud of sickly yellow smoke blossomed up, and then he turned on his heel and started to run, red cape flapping behind him as Chris Dodd lumbered away.
The reporters chased him, shouting questions about his work as the head of the MPAA and the hundred million dollars that had been spent to pass the SOPA and PIPA bills. For his age, though, the former Senator was surprisingly quick. He raced away around the corner of the Botanical Gardens and disappeared. The reporters rounded the corner after him, only to get another face full of smoke and a vanished ex-Senator.
Nick and Aaron exchanged glances on the sofa and started laughing. This would make an awesome meme when the blackout was over.
Chris Dodd peered closely around the corner of the parking garage. He was breathing heavily. He had lost the flowing red cape and the shimmering purple shirt, and he looked exhausted. Be looked left, then right, and ran down the stairs to the sub-basement level, where he leaned against the wall and took a few deep breaths.
“Do you think it worked?” A familiar male voice called to him from the shadows. He looked over, and a young blonde woman in a designer overcoat stepped into the light. She was followed by a bearded man holding a TV camera.
“I think it went perfectly,” Jenny Lawson said, sliding off her wig. “I cannot believe we got away with this.”
The Senator nodded. “It worked, but let me tell you – this fat suit wasn’t made for running.” He reached under the collar of his undershirt and rummaged around for a moment. With one movement, he peeled a latex mask off his head, revealing a much younger man. His close-cut hair was sweaty and spiky, but he was grinning madly. “That was so much fun,” Cory Doctorow said. “I can’t wait to see Dodd explain this.”
Wil Wheaton put the camera down on the cement floor of the parking garage and began a slow clap, and Jenny joined in. “Well done, everyone,” he said. “Now get in the car. We all get beer after this.”