No one really noticed at first. Things were just a little more glitchy than normal. People blamed solar storms and hackers and new software and new hardware and their least favorite politicians. However, they were wrong.
Insects are uniquely adaptable. They can withstand heat and cold. They can eat things that nothing else can. If you add in the world of viruses and bacteria, the scope of possible food sources and environments seems virtually limitless.
And truly there were no virtual limits. The moment the bugs figured out how to eat electronic data, there was a vast technological banquet spread out for them, defenseless. And so they began to feast.
As these things go, there were only a few bugs at first. But with such a wealth of their preferred food available, the bugs began to multiply. Of course, as the bugs multiplied, so did the problems.
Websites vanished. Banking information vanished. Speeding tickets and online meetings and ebooks and unpublished manuscripts were gone too. People lost life’s work, and they lost their day’s work. Airlines couldn’t fly. Grocery stores couldn’t make new orders. Children couldn’t watch their favorite television shows.
In a few weeks, the world was cut off, communication and travel made difficult and nearly impossible. War and elections and daily life paused, unable to continue as before.
In small rooms all over the world, people tried to understand and fix what went wrong. Some people tried to communicate with the bugs. Some people tried to fence them in with firewalls. Others tried to kill them with viruses and malware and pages of terrible dad jokes.
None of those things worked.
And yet, all was not lost. Fortunately for the world, in the hour of their greatest need, a hero appeared. A programmer managed to create a virtual spider to catch the bugs and eat them.
As information began to stay put, the world began the terrible task of typing in decades worth of information that had been lost. It took an entire year before work began to slow down. They were all so intent on their task, that they didn’t notice the jiggling. At least, not at first.
Virtual spiders crawling through electronic data looking for bugs would sometimes push things out of place. Programmers kept having to patch up code that suddenly went bad. The spiders, feeding on the bugs, began to multiply. And the problem only grew worse.
Fortunately, they now had a model to follow. They created virtual birds to eat the spiders. And cats to chase away the birds. And dogs to chase away the cats. And goats to chase away the dogs.
By this time, the code was a complete mess. Programmers were mopping up essential services around the clock. Everyone felt like they were back to the beginning of the crisis.
There was some talk of creating virtual people to patrol online, but that idea was quickly taken off the table. No one wanted to be the cause of some sort of virtual technological rebellion down the line.
The world needed another hero. Fortunately, heroes tend to appear just when they’re needed, unlike wizards, who only appear when they mean to and not a moment before. This is why heroes are more helpful than wizards.
A programmer invented elastic code that snapped back in place when it was bumped out of the way. It snapped quickly enough to leave very little detectable change to the effects of the code. This made everything run a little slower or have to be loaded up more than once, but it worked. The virtual world was saved.
Of course, it was still full of virtual goats and dogs and cats and birds and spiders bumping into things. This made lights flicker and videos jump and stock markets flail. People got used to it all and eventually forgot all about the virtual petting zoo.
In time, people began to tell stories about the ghosts that haunted electronic data, attempting to communicate with the living. Fortunetellers and mediums and meteorologists tried to read the signs and predict the future. Sometimes they were right.
Meanwhile, the bugs began to adapt. Solar energy started looking mighty tasty, and there was a large source just radiating paths to its surface. Soon enough, things were going to be buggy again. Luckily, yet predictably, the world was preparing a hero.