Bonus Short Story: Make It Worth It

“It began with an election,” she said, sparking a cigarette in a way that would’ve made James Dean jealous.

The old rebel could’ve never hoped to imitate it though; She had a booted-foot kicked up backward against a sheet-metal warehouse. Her leather pants were tucked into her calf-high boots, tight enough to say her legs were slender, beautiful, and chromed polyalloys– forced augments after an accident had claimed the real ones. The slightest hint of electric blue encircled her hazel irises, said she’d only elected to get her HUD installed afterward.

Her eyes morphed between brown and green with tilts of her head as she took a long drag. She flicked ash at the gusts with one natural hand, the other stuffed in her pocket and unmoving. Another bionic, claimed with her legs by the same awfulness. Like them, there was an angular rigidity to her otherwise soft, supple face, that screamed alloy bone-weaves. Maybe it was the cheeks, or forehead, their skin stretched a little too unnaturally to be organic.

She took another drag, and plumed smoke, “It began with an election, like most shit-storms in history. World War two did– pretty much anyhow. Hitler’s election sealed the world’s fate. Truman’s election sealed Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s fates. Even Vietnam’s fate was sealed by Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Hell, the only reason Nixon pulled out was ’cause he was too damned corrupt to keep track of everything.”

She scoffed angrily, then flicked more ash.

“Whatever. Point is, everything begins with an election, or the lack thereof, or the assassination of some smart-mouthed politician. We humans and our trust… we really gotta’ learn we’re all out for ourselves. Even I’m only telling you this for the sake of it not being forgotten, ’cause I don’t want it to be.”

Her lone audience member was inert, his HUD recording her every move and word.

She sighed, “Anyway, the great American hive-mind voted in some businessman who’d gotten a wild hair up his ass to be president. He wanted to run the country like a business ’cause we had money problems. Big fuckin’ deal, who doesn’t? Problem was, just about every business he’d run, he’d actually run into the ground. Sorta telling looking back, huh?”

She was quiet for a moment, staring out across the horizon. Between the two sides of the harbor there were enough rundown, ramshackle, sheet-metal warehouses to prove her point. Behind them, their horizons rose in waves of countless skyscrapers. Corporate logos and digital billboards were splattered across them in sickening, electric colors from LEDs and Neon signs, offensive to the otherwise unrelenting gray that formed the sky.

It wasn’t hard for anyone to see the corporate-takeover she was referring to. It managed to enslave a good portion of the country to their government’s debts and screw everyone in the process.

“So this guy,” she said animatedly with her smoking hand. “Gets elected with all these promises to dick around certain, specific groups of people. The country fuckin’ eats it up, like he’s some god damned spunk-shooting john and they’re all his whores swallowing for their payday.”

She snorted a burst of air like a desperate laugh. Her lone audience member gave a silent chuckle to himself.

She continued astutely, “So they lap it all up, like good little servants, and the bastard gets his pay day. He gets on Capitol Hill, and lo and behold, suddenly he’s writing all these laws, submitting ’em to Congress.”

She flicked her cigarette to the ground, pulled another from her pocket with the other hand. The augment’s hand was a chrome skeleton, like an old terminator’s, but with forty-years and billions more in research behind it.

“All these laws getting submitted– and eventually passed– were fed through a Congress bought and paid for by companies lobbying for certain agendas to be passed.” She covered her mouth a moment to spark a lighter with her augment, then shoved both back into her pockets until it was time to flick ash again. “The country knew even then it was happening,” she admitted angrily. “But we couldn’t do anything. Congress had the power, and the corporations had Congress. Even the fuckin’ President helping them didn’t have more than the power of suggestion. But see, that was the thing, they gave him the suggestions. Then when the time came, he shoved those bills into the legal system and their cronies passed ’em without ever realizing they were being so wholly manipulated. Or if they did, they didn’t care. After all, billions were being paid out to collectively keep them complicit!”

She’d gotten herself into such a fury she was forced to pause to calm down. She did it over the span of a couple of drags. Then, with her augged hand, she produced a flask and threw down a gulp. She offered it to her listener, and he swigged with a “thank you” and a wince.

When she started up again, she was calmer, more morose, “So the corporations passed all these laws without any oversight or consideration of the “common” man. With a few, specific laws, they nullified almost all privacy, Citizen’s rights, and any hopes for peacefully assembling against them.”

She took another drink from the flask, then twisted the cap on with the hand, her cigarette between two, real fingers. She slipped it back into her pocket with a casual move and her augged hand disappeared again.

“A lotta’ people then thought people like me– the ones that saw where we were heading– were nut-job conspiracy theorists. You’d think after we’d been proven right about governmental agencies spying on us they’d have at least given us the benefit of the doubt. But nope. Instead we got the same old rigmarole. We were paranoid, lying, or just plain crazy.”

She stared off for a moment, her thoughts elsewhere. Her listener wondered if he should say something to keep her going, but she sighed, shook her head, and looked at the ground.“If we’d been smarter, maybe we’d have rebelled then and there.” Her eyes rose at him again, “But we didn’t. Instead, we took it, hoping one day things would turn out better. Now we’re all screwed. Over the course of a decade, the corporations and that lame-brain puppet we called a President completely overwrote the Bill of Rights and Constitution. Their friends on Wall Street and in their corporate towers were the only ones that benefitted. Meanwhile, we became slaves to corps, so weighed down by debt and fear of the monsters looming over us we’re petrified against action.”

She drifted off on this thought. Her distant look of depression told her listener that his only recourse was to speak. He wasn’t sure what to say though. Instead, he reiterated his initial question– the one that had led to the history lecture.

“So… that’s why you’re taking off? The corps? What about your friends? What about me?”

She sighed, “One day you’re gonna’ learn that the only reason we’re all poor and living on the street’s ’cause we weren’t ready to let go of things and fight back. When that day comes, maybe you’ll let go and take off too. Maybe then you’ll find me again. I hope so, anyhow. I like you, but you’re too young and I’m too old. The gap between’s still too much.”

He shook his head, “I think you’re just running off ’cause you’re afraid.”

She put her one, real hand on his shoulder, “We’re all afraid, Ra. What separates us is how we react to that fear, what it turns us into. Me? It’s turned me into a fighter. If it just made me afraid, why would I run off to follow rumors of the resistance?”

He couldn’t argue with her logic. Then again, she was a decade older than him, and in her late twenties. He’d only just turned eighteen. He doubted he’d ever be able to outsmart her, or even win an argument. Still, he loved her, and she seemed to care about him.

For this last point he made a case, “If you didn’t care you wouldn’t be lecturing me.”

She shrugged, “Maybe that’s the other reason I’m going. There’s no place for love in this world. No place for caring or kindness. It’s all cold calculus and living and dying by the dime. Maybe you oughta’ think about that. Maybe I do love you, and maybe that’s too hard to deal with until I do something to change things.”

He wasn’t sure if she was speaking in earnest or whether she was just trying to shake off his questions. He liked to think the former, if only to keep himself hopeful.

She flicked away her last butt, and lifted her pack to a shoulder, “One day, if the world’s meant to have love in it, we’ll find each other. Until then, stay safe, and know there’s at least one person out there fighting for you. So make it worth it.”

She turned away, her face steeled against undeniable emotions. Ra watched her leave, wondering if he’d ever see her again. At the very least, he knew for certain he’d follow her soon enough. One day, he’d find the courage to say enough was enough, and seek out the resistance. Until then, he’d remain forced to scour the ghettos for food and shelter, his only thoughts otherwise always of her. He’d make it worth it, no matter what. It was the least he could do for her.

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