It starts with a dream.
I overheard their conversations.
They plan to erase all the evidence that the NS1729 country ever existed.
Who are they?
I don't have time to figure out this question.
Everything is stored in the cloud, and all I need to do is retrieve the data on chains.
Sitting in the dark corner with a shimmering light reflected on my face, I know I must hurry up.
"Who are you?"
They appear in front of me from nowhere.
I haven't had a chance to answer.
They smash my computer and shot me in the head.
"Ahhh!" I roused from sleep with a heavy breath.
Thank God! That was a dream.
I asked Alexa to draw the curtain.
Alexa didn't respond.
"Alexa, what time is it?"
Alexa didn't answer.
I pulled off my eye mask and climbed out of my bed.
I was fumbling around in the darkness and walking towards the window.
I pulled the curtain back. Completely dark outside.
"What's going on? Where are the lights?"
The full moon and scattered stars were my only light source.
I groped to the living room and turned on my mobile phone.
A red out-of-power sign.
I grabbed my computer and opened it.
17% battery. No WIFI connection. 12:19 am.
"Who cut off the power?"
I lighted the candle and walked with it to the doorway.
I could only hear my breath and the sound of a burning candle.
I had an urge from inside to scream, but the sweet soothing lavender smell from the candle calmed me down.
I didn't want to disturb my neighbours at midnight to wake them up.
My rational mind told me to go back to sleep. Everything would be fine by tomorrow.
But the voice in my head kept telling me, hey, something is wrong. You need to find out.
I summoned up the courage and pushed every neighbour's doorbell.
I started to knock on their doors.
A few minutes passed by.
Out of four doors, just one opened.
"Who are you?"
A guy robbed his sleepy eyes and asked me in an impatient tone.
I got an electric shock inside my body because his voice sounded exactly like THEY in my dream.
"What do you want?"
He got slightly angry when he noticed I didn't answer his question but stood there like a zombie.
I pulled myself together, told him I was his neighbour and asked if he noticed the power outage.
He said yes, that's why it took him a while to open the door because he couldn't see anything.
I asked him if I could borrow his phone to call my friends.
He showed me no signal. 19% battery left.
He seemed not worried about what happened and wanted to go back to sleep.
I thanked him and thought I should do the same, going back to sleep and waiting for tomorrow's sunlight.
While my neighbour walked back to his room and was about to close his door, I caught a glimpse of bright light in his background.
The same kind of computer light appeared in my dream.
"BANG." The door shut in front of me. The airflow blew out my candle.
My spiderman sense once again warned me there was something unusual.
I shook my head, slowly walked back to my apartment, and lay on my bed.
The voice still urged me to explore what happened in this world.
"SHUT THE F*** UP!"
I screamed out of fear and tried to go back to sleep.
I had no idea how many hours took me to fall asleep.
Rays of sunshine woke me up.
"Alexa, what time is it?"
I got up and opened the window and looked down.
Many people gathered around on the street.
Some tried to start their Teslas. Some were talking with each other.
I opened my computer to check the time.
7.29 am. 12% battery.
I walked from my 29th-floor apartment to the street below and joined the conversation.
It was a memorable scene in the residents here who hardly talked to each other in real life suddenly banding together.
No one seemed to know what happened and how long this power outage would last.
In my 27 years of life, I only encountered a power outage once.
That's when I lost my parents and my country Zeatuna.
A surprising winter storm plunged my country's electrical grid into darkness, leading to a few months-long blackouts.
It left millions of people without power in freezing temperatures. People died from cold, starvation, lack of water and social disruption.
The official record of that disaster blackout lasted for 129 days, but some people remember it's longer than that.
Everyone rushed into the CBD area's concrete buildings because it was too cold to stay in the traditional wood-made houses. People started to collect as much food as possible from grocery shops and supermarkets.
When all people desire the same scarcity, there will be blood.
Many days passed. Many bodies were scattered along the streets.
My last memory of my parents was they put me into a safe warehouse and asked me to hide from the crowd, and then they carried guns and walked out to hunt for food.
Many days passed. The other kids and I were found by a group of people in military uniforms. They told us United Nations sent them to investigate what happened to my country, and out of millions of citizens, we were probably the only survivors.
Even those military guys who have seen a lot of brutal war scenes were shocked by what they saw in my country. I could tell from their expressions.
That's the last memory I had of my country before I stepped on the rescue aircraft: âCorpses, blood, darkness, mess, tears, tanks, bombs, wounded land...
My country Zeatuna is an island located in the far south of the earth and isolated from other continents.
The steep mountain slopes, endless golden sand beaches, mangrove forests, raging rivers and lakes and thunderous waterfalls attracted niche tourists from all over the world.
Tourism used to be the No.1 source for our local economy, but a global pandemic changed everything.
The Premier Minister of Zeatuna ordered to shut down the border to suppress the virus. Without upcoming tourists and inward migration, locals suffered from economic collapse.
A couple of on the brink of bankruptcy entrepreneurs in tourism didn't sit on the fence and wait for the solution. They heard about Bitcoin and blockchain, so they crowdfunding a couple of hydroelectric power plants to venture into hosting digital mining computers.
Their efforts paid well and got attention from international cryptocurrency miners who are looking for clean, cheap energy and a stable internet connection. Zeatuna is soon becoming one of the few countries that benefit from the pandemic to achieve digital transformation.
Zeatuna, my beloved country, has been put on the map, especially among the web3 communities. The blooming development lasted for a decade, and one day, nature mama showed her power to human beings who damaged her skin for profit. She brought a once-in-hundreds years snowstorm to my country and destroyed everything.
Our nation almost went to extinction. Our land had suffered from the civil riots and over-development.
What left? Just a bunch of underaged orphans who had zero real-life experience but spent the majority of their life online.
After mammoth discussions, the UN passed an agreement to certify the surviving Zeatunese kids co-own the land of Zeatuna. Since our country was not in a livable condition at that moment and we were too young to co-decide the country's future. The solution was to wait for all of us to reach the legal voting age and decide what we would do with the land.
We became the most exciting reality TV show in human history. People are eager to follow our journey and to see the fate of 79 surviving Zeatunese kids between 2- 17 years old. At least the world must wait for 19 years until the youngest one grows up to see the season finale.
While the UN was busy making the arrangement, numerous bitcoin and blockchain communities who used my country's mining services aided us with humanitarian relief. They either volunteered to clean up the bodies and repair the building or proposed to be our foster family.
Back then, there was a new form of a country built by a highly aligned online community with a capacity for collective action. NS1729 was the most successful one with hundreds and thousands of members worldwide. It reached the stage of crowdfunding territory to eventually gains diplomatic recognition from pre-existing states.
My assigned foster family was part of the NS1729 community. So did many other Zeatunese kids' families. Some mainstream journalists came up with the conspiracy theory that NS1729 would like to take over Zeatuna as their physical territory. The best way was to raise Zeatunese kids up and subliminally influence their decisions to sell our land to them.
I was too young to understand that theory. All I cared about was having a safe place to live. Although the UN took the witness protection act to protect our identity, we had nowhere to hide in the world of citizen journalism. One by one, we were adopted to our new family and the oldest girl among us, N, proposed we have the reunion yearly at Zeatuna.
She also set up the discord channel for us and ensured our new family would let us stay in touch with each other. I looked upon N since I was a little girl, and I learned how to code, write, and draw from her because our families were very close.
Her parents went out hunting for food with my parents on the same day. I stayed with her the whole time, waiting for them to come back with food, but they didn't make it.
N went out to look for them. A couple of days later, she returned with some familiar shredded cloth.
"They're gone, S. The bomb."
I was too hungry and tired to cry out loud, just letting tears flow down my face.
"S, stay strong. You'll be fine. Never forget me and our country. We'll get back home together one day."
N farewelled me and left with her foster family.
Through all those years, we didn't get the annual reunion as N proposed. Coordinating 79 families to go to one place every year is challenging. Some kids developed PTSD and followed the psychiatric advice to completely cut their ties with Zeatuna to embrace their new life.
As time went by, around 20 of us were actively seeking to go back to Zeatuna to rebuild our country. Most are of N's age and already had state nationalism education before the catastrophe.
I never felt a sense of belonging to Zeatuna. I was born in the fast development stage of building hydroelectric power plants. All my memory about Zeatuna was fewer green lands and forests but more construction sites.
If there were not that storm, my parents and I would immigrate to other countries the following spring. However, changes always happen faster than planned. You never know whether you can see the sunlight of tomorrow or not.
Two days before my 21st birthday, my neighbourhood has already been surrounded by many journalists and influencers. As per the agreement, when Zeatuna kids turn to 21st, they can leave their guardians and pursue their own path.
The world wants to know my destiny. After all, people have been following me on this Reality TV show for 12 years.
Since I grew up with my foster family, followed by many interviews and paparazzi. I developed an interest in journalism and writing. I always have the urge to write my own story and seek the truth. I also enjoyed hearing my new parents talk about decentralised media and the new form of a country they are building.
Many other network unions also emerged because more and more people tasted the freedom of being sovereign individuals under the trend of digital nomads and remote working. They rebel against the exited order and devote themselves to building new aligned online communities and then seek physical lands.
Zeatuna has become a popular place for those online communities to settle down as a new physical territory for its unique situation: power plants, natural resources, already recognised by the UN as a country.
Whoever can negotiate with the future leader of Zeatuna to purchase the land will win the race of being the first Network State.
NS1729 has become the target of pre-existing states and other network unions in those years. The formers are afraid of this new kind of country protocol. Once it's successful, there will be more to come.
The laters treated NS1729 as a competitor. Although they used to learn from NS1729's pioneer experiences, now every society and union wants to be the FIRST in the world to prove the feasibility of building the Network State raised by an anonymous person.
On my birthday, I fared well with my foster parents and returned to Zeatuna to reunite with others. It was the first time in 12 years I set my footprint up in my homeland. Everything has changed dramatically.
My hometown has become a better version of Chornobyl, abandoned by human beings but revived as one of the world's largest nature reserves and the ecosystem.
In a way, the Zeatuna disaster reveals the true extent of the human impact on the planet's environment. Despite the damage caused by the snowstorm, it has done far less damage to local ecosystems than human development. In expelling humankind from the area, mama nature recovered from herself.
Out of 79 kids who survived the catastrophe, 2 dead from accidents, 27 gave up their citizenship, and 29 lost touch. The left 21 kids, including me, are actively in our online community. I was the 17th to reach the age to get back, and we still had to wait 7 years for the rest to grow up and make the final vote.
But I already knew the result. N was the natural-born leader, and she had been prepared for herself to be the governor of the New Zeatuna. And, of course, she would get all our votes. The question is, what's next? How can she rebuild our country, revitalise the economy and form a new national consciousness?
N told me she had a perfect plan. She'd like to have me onboard to execute her plan and serve as her assistant.
I agreed. I wanted to cover N's story and record New Zeatuna's story first-hand.
Things were more complicated than I thought, and I was shocked by her plan andâ¦ her dark side.
Will you do anything by all means necessary to achieve your goal?
N would definitely say yes.
I went back to my apartment after chatting with people on the street. The strange unease feeling came back again. And the nightmare replayed again and again in my head.
"What's s going on with my mind?"
Maybe the power outage triggered my childhood trauma?
I shook my head and tried to think about what shall I do in the day without the internet.
I couldn't talk with friends and ask them about their situation, and I couldn't go to their places without GPS and a car.
My only hope is to pray for bringing the power back.
But who shall I pray to?
We now live in this decentralised digital society and take all those established infrastructures for granted.
We never know who we shall talk to if one day we run out of water or power because it's never happened in most people's lives.
I was meditating on the floor with many questions aroused in my mind.
"How come people didn't learn the lessons from Zeatuna to prepare for a power outage?"
"Why didn't Zuatunese and I take the initiative to educate the world on how to deal with the cascading damaging effects of a long-term power outage?"
"What if the Zeatuna tragedy would happen again?"
I broke out in cold sweat and got up to grab a drink.
Nothing left much in my fridge. Shall I prepare for the worst and get some food?
Since we are already in a cashless society, with the blackout, how shall I pay for things?
I went downstairs again and saw people were already in a panic.
Many people started to gather outside the supermarket and attempted to break in to grab food and water.
I was trembling in the crowd.
NOT AGAIN. NO.
However, nothing is under my control.
The riot happened at night, and history repeated itself. Once again, I stood alone in fires, but this time without parents or friends to protect me.
The chaos lasted for three days, and the power suddenly went back.
When the street lights sparkled up one by one, the whole neighbourhood had a thunderous round of applause with fireworks lighting up the sky like we were welcoming the New Year.
Everything seems back to normal pretty quickly once people can coordinate and chat online.
I read the news that this power outage was from a cyber attack.
I immediately opened Discord and found the NS1729 server was gone.
I grabbed my phone and tried to call my foster family, but their information all disappeared.
I googled NS1729. The results were nothing related to the first Network State but some random products.
I rushed out of my apartment and knocked on my neighbour's door.
"Maybe it's my end of the problem. Let me try other computers."
No one answered. I kept knocking and knocking, but still, no one answered.
I ran back to my apartment and tried to retrieve data, and then I heard my neighbour's door open.
The guy walked out like he hadn't been sleepy for many days.
"May I use your computer to search for something?"
"Can you please search NS1729 for me? Very important, please!"
I begged him and his eyes suddenly sprinkled some lights.
The guy went back home and walked into my apartment with his computer.
The same results. Nothing related to the Network State.
"What are you doing?"
He asked me.
"Retrieving data to prove their existence."
"Oh? Can you?"
I felt something against my back head. I turned around and saw the guy pointing a gun at me.
Here is N's plan.
Once she becomes the voted leader of Zeatuna, she'll make a deal with NS1729, sell our land to them, and let them rebuild the country for us because they have much better resources.
When the time is right, she'll take all those tech-savvy Zeatunese to start a cyber attack, erase all the data related to her deal with the NS1729 and get the country back to her hand.
I was shocked by her crazy thoughts and left Zeatuna. I couldn't spread her plan to the world because she was like my sister. On the other hand, I warned my parents to pay attention to cyber attacks, and I never knew whether they made it into mind.
Since almost all the world's information is stored digitally on the cloud, it's easy to use the money from selling the land to arrange and recruit labourers to destroy the servers or interrupt the server maintenance and management.
Human memories are short, but history written by the winner will forever live along as long as humans existed.
When Emperor Qin set fire to burn books and burying of scholars in 213 BC, the Chinese people lost track of what exactly happened before Qin's ages.
When N called for the cyber attack to destroy servers and data in 48 AS, future generations will never know Network States' founding members' stories.
Though we have the technology to record everything on chains and make microhistory more powerful than in previous ages, we human beings could not escape the law of physics to avoid falling into the digital dark age.
I closed my eyes in peace.
I did my part to write my own history. Though short and simple, truthful and matters.