VIN25- American Dreams

The American Dream is dead.

One may infer a lot by that, but do not mistake it for utter cynicism. At the heart of every cynic is an optimist’s “realist-masquerade.” Fact is, cynicism isn’t inherently negative. It just comes across that way in a society too short on attention-span to discourse civilly.

Actual civil discourse, done well, can be extremely rewarding. It’s perfectly okay to disagree with someone. It’s even more acceptable to spar with words. Certain cultures however, have made any showing of bodily-mercy utterly irreconcilable with ego.

Especially in places where inequality dominates, Humans tend toward hierarchic structures in command or social leadership. This, spawned of our evolutionary desire to maintain the social-unit, results in clique-behavior. These behaviors, like animals, evolve over generations.

Example: We now know bloodletting is, in fact, toxic in most instances. This is the result of Medical-Science’s evolution, as the Human lack of flippers is one of the their own.

Imagine trying to walk with swim-fins on, 24/7. Now remember our existence, as Homo Sapiens, dictates we remain some combination of intelligent, quick, and/or strong enough to survive.

Like that? Never would’ve happened.

Luckily, we have evolved and do not have flippers. Like us, so has the American Dream evolved– conceptually. It is social-software to advanced, Human-hardware. Like any operating system, it is built of its previous iterations for better or worse, but can be used for either.

Currently, it is being guided– if not by, than in darkness.

This is why we must resist not only the darkness by preparing ourselves with light, but also why need to remain peaceful over it. Yes, revolution– change, needs to occur, but not at the expense of leveler-heads. Society is a natural system and does not respond well to manipulation.

The dream may be dead, but the dreamer still sleeps. Many more may yet be their dreams. This is our present. We, as Americans, and people of the world effected by them, must accept that there are powers working, clandestinely, to take much of what is not theirs.

Like all power-hungry, they will not stop unless checked. It is inevitable: as weeds in sidewalk, but even so, The American Dream shall only give way to American Dreams.

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Poetry-Thing Thursday: In Place of Dreams

I hear sirens in the distance,
over a foreground of dogs barking,
and the passing folly of man’s device.

They called us explorers,
when we reached this land,
then after rape and pillaging,
they called us masters–
And behind our backs, bastards.

Can’t blame ‘em, I guess.
Or at least, I don’t.
‘Cause in the end,
they’ll have their revenge.

We took this land by force, to reverie,
like we took their innocence.
They begged us only to till the land,
instead we cut and bled her, stole her purity.

They called us masters and bastards,
then the sun burned us down,
but we re-rose from the ashes,
and took earth as our own.

And now I hear sirens, and barking, and distant screams;
The latest of us to bake and broil in the evil we wrought.
In the end they got the last laughs,
and we nightmares in place of dreams.

Short Story: Diesel Harper

The game had come. It was the day. The big one. College scouts. Screaming Crowds. Cheerleaders bouncing in rhythm. Gravity making fools of their breasts and perverted lechers of everyone watching. The stands were awash in red and white, streaming and waving as if pouring from Niagra. Within it, the floating detritus of signs held aloft praised players or urged the team on. Beneath the lights, late September mist glowed like evening sweat on players’ brows. Iridescent. Without time

The Reds versus the Knights, this was it; bigger than state, bigger than the Superbowl. This was what every high-school player dreamed of. But no player dreamed bigger than Devin “Diesel” Harper though. Life hinged on his moment. Not just for him, but for his whole family. Growing up in Podunk, Indiana was never going to be easy, especially for a black kid on welfare. Unlike some of the people he knew of living off government money– and he was certain race wasn’t a factor– he and his family were there rightfully, no matter how much they’d tried not to be.

Devin’s father was a truck driver doing long hauls along the interstates. The crossroads of America had taken his legs when his rig overturned outside Chicago one, snowy night. Paralyzed from the waist down, and with a wife confined to a wheel-chair from progressive M-S, there wasn’t much the elder Harper could do but swallow his pride and admit disability. The food stamps and welfare came a little later, when the M-S progressed further and medical bills racked up.

Devin thrived. Despite the pressures of life and school. He’d seen enough people fall victim to their own vises or those of a system attempting to lure them deeper into poverty. He’d so far managed to avoid them himself, graced as he was with a keen-sight and the nimble skills that had made him a star Running Back. There wasn’t a thing Devin couldn’t do if he put his mind to it. Enough people had told him as much. Football was the one thing he could use to pull his family up from the muck. So, he went at it with all cylinders firing.

The grid-iron was slick. The turf glistened. Minute pools formed in the tamps from cleats. The scoreboards showed the teams were neck and neck. 4th and nine. A single play would determine whether Diesel’s team won outright, or whether they’d pummel and hammer their way to victory in overtime. There was no other option.

Diesel was face-to-face with a wall of meat. He’d been there once before. He’d nicknamed the guy “Meat” in his head. Meat looked more like he belonged in a Mr. Universe competition than a high-school. So much mass would slow him down though. Diesel’d earned his nickname because he was a runaway truck. No-one could catch once he took off. If he got the ball, it was all over. He readied himself, planned his moves. Meat grunted steam into the air like a bull. A mix saliva and adrenaline over day-old spaghetti and fresh B-O hinted itself at Diesel’s nostrils.

Diesel heard the snap. His body worked. He juked right. Meat was too heavy. He lunged. Diesel weaved left, through a gap between defenders. He was half-way up the field when he turned back. The pigskin spiraled at him like a sidewinder missile. He leapt, snatched, clutched, tucked, and hit the ground with a roll. His elbows went down, but Meat hit him hard enough to knock the ball loose in his hands. He clutched it tighter to his body, allowed the impact to dissipate through him. He came to a stop less than ten from goal. The whistle blew. Moments remained.

It was now or never. He knew the play, saw his opening. Meat was back. He was going to go for it. 1st and goal. No other choice. Diesel wasn’t a secret weapon. He was the weapon. The only one. Unstoppable. Unbeatable. This was for Mom. Dad. Everyone. It was for the Scouts, eyeing him from around the field. Most of all, it was for himself. To pull himself out of the muck, his family with him– that was plan.

The snap came. Meat lunged. Diesel juked, weaved. Meat roared. Goal was a step away. He landed across it. His leg hit, the ball cradled against his belly. Meat hit too; a cruunnch tore away reality. He felt his elbows hit mud; the rumble of the crowd in the stands. They’d won. The team had won. The Scouts knew it was him. Before he could fully appreciate it himself, he was out. Unconscious from pain, and with a sight he somehow knew; he’d never play again.

Beneath his unconscious eyes, dreams began. They weren’t dreams as he knew them though. His dreams always involved football, cheer-leaders, in all the was a normal high-school boy might dream of such things But these dreams were different. They felt different. Most importantly, he knew they were different.

He was older, college-aged, getting recruited to the NFL. Contract signings and payday checks in the millions led to all-night parties. Mounds of drugs. Boozing. Fast, easy women. He saw Mom and Dad on holidays. They were worse off than ever, but lavished with ludicrous gifts. It pained his heart.

But the dreams did not yield. He got older, heavier, wealthier. Mom and Dad sank deeper. Their hopes sank with them. More holidays passed. He no longer lavished them. The entirety of the dreams shifted as if all at once: he was suddenly broke, selling cars, doing drugs, weeping in a rat-infested, hole-in-the-wall motel. Whatever had led him there, fame and fortune were part of it– or had been. They were certainly no longer present.

He felt it in his chest, the answer. He’d seen and heard of it through-out his life; players that went pro, formed habits too big for their money to keep up, and fell hard. He never thought he’d become one. Maybe he wouldn’t have. He wasn’t sure. No-one could know the future, after all. Let alone see it, right? He was even less sure about that.

In the end, all he knew was the undeniable feeling of relief he had on awaking in the hospital, his leg in a cast, and his body flooded with the mellow armor of painkillers. It allowed him to mull things over: he saw the path of life laid out before him while the dreams were still fresh. A nudge here. A push there. That was all it would take to set things right. Football or not, Devin’s grades were just right, and his mindset newly re-centered to still avoid tragedy. If he picked up his slack here, the career-killing injury might not turn out so bad.

Over the next few days, people showed up to congratulate him on his victory. He’d taken himself out of school to normalize himself to the pain pills he was forced to take. On a welfare living, it was tough enough to make food. Meds would be short. He felt it better to get as much healing in as possible while he still had them.

The third day of his self-imposed therapy, a girl from his geometry class appeared. She was advanced for her age, a Sophomore taking Senior classes. She’d offered to bring his homework over. They lived only a few buildings apart, had often waved or said hello between home and school. As any timid girl might, when insisted to by his mother, she lingered near his door to give him his homework. Devin wallowed in his latest dose of introspection and healing and almost missed her. When they finally said hello, she revealed her name was Amber. He thanked her.

She stuck around long enough to feel awkward before turning away. Devin stopped her, “Amber?” She turned back inquisitively. “I could use some company. And i-if you don’t mind… some help with the homework. Math’s not… my strong suit. Football is. or was.”

Imagine that, him— superstar Diesel Harper– stammering at her. Amber giggled desperately, but caught herself to keep him from feeling mocked. On the contrary, he seemed to understand things were usually the other way around. In fact, it was also the other way around.

“Ar-are you sure? I mean, if you really wa–”

“Yes. Please, stay.” Devin scooted over for her to sit. He reached for his backpack, determined to see his nightmarish dreams buffered by as much effort as humanly possible.

She sat with a shy smile. Devin smiled back, then rifled through his pack for his geometry book. They launched into work with as double the vigor Devin had used to launch himself across the goal time and again.

“You know,” Devin said during one of their breaks. “I had this dream about the future. More of a nightmare really. Now, it’s almost funny how scared I was.”

Amber’s eyes gleamed with intrigue. “What was it about?”

“Football… and math.”

They both laughed.

Bonus Poem: Ground State

I can feel electricity in the air.
It clings to surfaces as electrons to their shell.
While sweat glistens on the brow,
of the back-breaker with the stained blue-collar.

There are no more heroes anymore.
We left them behind with our youth and prosperity.
Tumult is our new currency, fear our inflation,
cold death and iron hate our tax.

I wanted green fields and plains full of wild flowers.
But all that’s left are concrete jungles and steel deserts.

What is this life we live?
Fading Earth and Sun with no Moon.
The birds don’t sing anymore and the plants have all died.
Their corpses are swarmed by flies while stale excrement taints the air.

Beneath it is the electricity that charges with each moment.
If you wait long enough you can feel it upend hairs on your neck,
and in the distance, a cry of mourning.

It was our dream to sow this land as explorers.
But our arrival was greeted with strange, old faces.
The dead had long been buried so we added to them,
and in the cool, night air, we waged warfare in virulent form.

A toxic nightmare became the reality of millions.

Wives.
Mothers.
Children.
Found death in the world’s cruel embrace

And so we danced and drank beneath the moonlight,
to forget our troubles and forgive us our sorrows.
But night is the time of the raven-call and the black-winged devils.

So we sang to forgive us our trespasses,
and to emerge once more into morning,
with hope and the calculus of reason,
whose ways disintegrate existence’s illusory nature,
to wed science with metaphysics and reveal our true path.

But fate is no more a sickness than a virtue.
Change is constant; quantum flux relentless.

And so we bow our heads in prayer,
that we might forget what we know to be true,
to carry on blissful, ignorant.

But electricity still clings to the air,
and excites.

It invigorates,
energizes,
cries out for discharge
so that it, like we, may return to ground-state.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Stitch up the Seams

Lift up a pen,
to stitch up the seams,
For evil is never as cumbersome,
as beauty or dreams.

One keeps you frightened,
with heart full of dread.
The other’s enlightened.
The last one undead.

A mistress of maidens,
cloaked in the light,
for evil works best,
under cover of night.

So let your heart be like the poles,
with weekfuls of day,
emitted by pen-hand and souls,
and ink in main-stay.

Just count to ten,
then stitch up the seams.
Let ink flow til day-come,
with images, beauty, and dreams.

The Pod: Part 7

7.

The Substation

It was very early in the morning, cold with a brisk wind that blew out of the North. We had deliberately stayed our hand, waiting for the opportune moment. In the week of planning and preparation that had followed our scouts return, there was no further advancement. Our scouts kept their eyes on the power station, and our patrols kept their guns ready, but thankfully, in vain. My Colleague and I put together a force of a dozen able-bodied men and women, finished the last of the weapons, and retrofitted capacitors in order to couple with the power station. The militia, comprised of men and women of all walks of life, said goodbye to their families and readied for the fight.

My Colleague and I, in our best attempts to rally morale, prepared a speech. We assembled whom we could to hear it, and all but the furthermost patrols were there. I began reading from notes written down, but soon abandoned them. They were filled with false sentiments, lies concocted to hide and ease all too present pains. These men and women did not need these things. They did not need the burden of false hope. They needed perspective.

“I won’t bother to sweeten things,” I said. “I’m not going to lie, or sell you false hope. It is not right, and it will not work. The truth is, Humanity is in shambles. Who do you place the blame upon? The inventor and his machine?” There was a sporadic nodding from the silent crowd. I countered, “He is an easy target, no doubt. So was Oppenheimer and his bomb.” This confused the crowd. “Neither of these men can attest to the actions carried out by the intent of those whose hands were placed at both switches. It is, however, at our feet. Every one of us, myself included, sought dreams of glory and triumph through violence– To prove ourselves in a challenge that we would never face, to bolster our egos.” I lost the crowd a little, with these remarks. No matter, I continued on. “It is partially the inventor’s blame, you say, for it was his machine that malfunctioned. This too, is a false sentiment. Perhaps the blame may lie solely at his feet, perhaps he has wished this plague upon the world. I have my doubts. As I look out, I see inside, that so do a great many of you. No, we all know the truth; it is our own fault. Each in our individual way, and collectively, our egos craved an ever-increasing boost.”

I paused to look out among the faces, many worse the wear for my words. It did not matter, morale or not, no man, woman, or child, would have stopped trying to survive. After a tense moment, I resumed my words. “So what is the solution, then? Give our ego the boost of a life time. Give Humanity’s collective ego a boost for the books. Let us look at this honestly, admit that we’ve made a mistake, and paid for it, and fix it.”

A slight applause began to creep from the crowd. It started slow, a few people here and there, before building to a courteous clamor. It erupted suddenly into a full-on roar, the group finally feeling the impact of my words.

“Many have given their lives to fix it, and we have all made payment for it. We live in fear, cowering, remorseful, wallowing in our own pity. This is not the time to make fools of ourselves! Let us win the day! Let us earn that one final boost, erase our mistake from the page, and continue on. Let us eradicate these damned swarms! Are we going to let these tiny bastards push us around?”

A chorus of “No!” gripped the bolstered crowd.

“Or bring us down?”

No!”

“Or scare us into living like caged animals?”

No!”

“Then get your asses ready, and let’s take this fight to them!”

A thunderous applause erupted. My Colleague raised a fist, thrusting it into the air with defiance. The others joined in, chanting a rhythmic “No!” The dozen militia members charged off for the waiting vehicles, and headed for the station. My own fervor got the better of me; I too charged off, my colleague fast behind me. We started the trucks and tore off through the neighborhoods, onto the rural roads. Sprinted for the main road in front of the substation, setting up a defensive line.

My colleague and I gave the militia their orders; distract the masses to buy us time to plant our explosives. They inched nearer the substation, and my colleague and I set off for a path ’round the back. We made our way to a point along the side, and infiltrated through a tree-line there. The first shots came from the militia. We hastily cut our way through the fence surrounding the station, climbed through for the smallest transformers, grouped together in one section of the area. The shots grew louder, more numerous as the seconds passed. There was no time to fear what might be happening. We planted the explosives on the first transformers, moved to the mid-sized ones.

The plan was to overload the largest grouping by taking out the conduits that would dampen their charge. This required all of the smallest, and several of the mid-sized transformers to be destroyed.

We rigged the last charges, and made our retreat. Back on the road, we were taken by a terrifying sight. It froze us mid-stride, our minds unbelieving of our eyes. A massive swarm, continually transformed its shape as it threw cloud-like fists upon the militia. Bodies lay slumped over trucks, some thrown back on the road in puddles of blood. We watched on, aghast. The swarm threw a cloud at one man on a truck. He flew backward, to the ground. It advanced on him with a second cloud. He clambered to regain his footing. In his confusion he missed his chance to dodge. The impact slammed the man’s body into the road, threw small chunks of asphalt into the air. His corpse had been pulverized. He was done for, but a few others remained. We had to act.

My Colleague and I snapped from our trances, hurried to our truck and signaled a retreat. I jumped on the gun to engage the mass. It turned its sights from the fleeing militia to us. I fired inexhaustibly. The truck accelerated, flew forward at an alarming rate. My shots became erratic, missing by miles. The truck burst through the station’s high, front gate throwing me forward.

The swarm gave chase, toward the center of the clearing between the transformers. The truck stopped, my colleague climbed up into the back. The swarm descended rapidly.

“It is good to have known you, my friend,” He said. He smiled a wicked smile, as only a man crazed by the exhilaration of sacrifice could.

“You as well,” I said with a slight bow of my head.

I let out a battle cry, and fired the weapon. My shots hit the swarm that encompassed my vision, but dislodged little of its individual flecks. My friend lifted the detonator from his pocket, flicked a switch. We flung ourselves to our bellies in the bed of the truck. Fireballs erupted on either side of us, searing the area. The swarm gave pause.

Then, with a sound of building electricity, the final transformers overloaded. The swarm, confused by the explosions, stood motionless as the largest transformers blasted apart. A tidal wave of electricity accompanied fireballs and debris that engulfed the area. The gun’s batteries in the bed exploded. Lead-acid sprayed our clothes, burned us, but we dared rise until the swarm had collapsed.

And collapse it did! The electrical wave burst forth, and the swarm surged. It burst into flames like a mortar around us. Electrical arcs discharged into the truck, nearby by metallic surfaces, and melted the gun’s barrel above. The scent of burning rubber mixed with a thousand acrid fumes that spewed skyward in plumes of smoke.

Then, with a final, crackling of electricity, that beautiful rain of embers began once more.

My Colleague and I, pained from the burning acid and choked by the flames, rose to our knees. We watched the swarm burn and fall to dust on the ground. We laughed, cheered with giddy delight, hugged in a celebratory manner as two men who’ve conquered such a beast against our odds might. The day had been won, Humanity the victor.

Epilogue

In the days and weeks that followed the defeat of the massive swarm, we were able to reclaim much of the city and begin rebuilding what had been lost. Though the lives of many were irreplaceable, few felt it a price they couldn’t live with. It was not a foolish sentiment in the least. For either because of many combined factors, or just that fateful speech before the fight, many saw the true villain behind the swarms: It wasn’t the machines that had malfunctioned, and it wasn’t a man who’d built them poorly, it was ourselves. Each and every one of us had contributed to the near-fatal destruction wrought upon our species and our civilization. In each our own way, we learned the dreadful power of our own egos. In this knowledge, a new-found kindness and concern for one another emerged. No person went hungry, homeless, nor without aid in our new city.

Whether or not there are swarms left beyond our little crook in the world, I cannot yet say. No one has since ventured too far into the outskirts. There is no mass-communication left– the swarms have seen to that. As well, we have no time to. When reconstruction is over, we will move toward neighboring cities in search of survivors, and to provide aide and weaponry if need be.

Few things are certain of the human condition, save these points: Firstly, there is triumph in the human spirit that can be found when others suffer unduly. And that beneath all of our desires for greatness, all of our wants to be best, strongest; there is an aching desire to band together as one, and see that boost of pride passed on– At least, in some ways. For Humanity is both its own worst enemy and its greatest ally, and its dreams both beautiful and nightmarish.

The Pod: Part 6

6.

The Militia

With our militia at hand, we began patrolling a large city block. My Colleague and I were the commanders of the make-shift army. We set up high-powered electronic perimeters, assigning shifts to militia-members. It was exciting, invigorating. The local police, thoroughly disbanded from the chaos, came to us for help. Indeed, we offered what we could; a safe refuge, and free meals for those willing to carry their share of work. Though I make it seem more grand than it was, it was inspiring to see what had come of just a few days time.

The city block was barely a mile squared, and only a few places within had been left habitable by the rioters and looters. As such, most people were jammed like sardines into a few small homes. But food was abound, and security a given. It had to be, for this was where we were constructed the weapons. While it was true we had ample defenses there was still the matter of the swarming behemoths, demons, and all other manner of concocted apparitions wandering about. They seemed to have sensed the area was off-limits when their first forays against our perimeters were met with their demise. Since our militia had secured the block, the swarms had re-evaluated their strategy.

It is not a stretch to think there might be some capabilities for collective self-preservation in the swarms. It is more of a stretch however, but by no means impossible, to believe these swarms had begun thinking for themselves. Perhaps they had devised a means of inter-communication; their programming was already sophisticated enough to work as a group containing individuals– this was their purpose, after all. A swarm’s behavior dictated many things, but without complex intelligence necessary. What lends doubt to this last point however, is the coordination of the last attempt on our perimeter. The swarms have greater means of intricate processing than the average insect swarm. This, I assume, has allowed the change in their goals. They no longer appear target individuals, but instead, groups. This, among other things, suggests a communication, perhaps even a central leadership.

The attack, though in itself not indefensible, displayed a tactic astonishing to even the simple minded: They came at us from all sides of the block, as if to divide us and overwhelm individual groups. The swarms managed to injure several of the militia’s patrolmen. In the disorder that ensued, a few managed to breach an unguarded section by flying high overhead toward the block where we lay in hiding. There is an immovable contingent of weaponry hidden on either side of the main buildings both at street level and atop the roofs. These few guns are more than enough for our protection, and were invaluable in this skirmish.

We eliminated the breaching swarms with that most spectacular of raining fire that signals their demise. Nonetheless it appeared then, as it does now, that they had collectively learned tactics. They had transformed from masses of picturesque nightmares, bent on murder, to full-blown, intelligent beings ready to sacrifice themselves for whatever cause a machine might have.

Thankfully, since then we’ve neither heard nor seen them. The militia has prepared a scouting party for search and reconnaissance. Speculation suggests they are near a large substation south of our perimeter. If true, it would be advantageous for both sides. While swarms in their individual masses are still vulnerable to electrocution, if banded together in a large enough group they might be invulnerable to our weapons. If such is the case, the power station’s massive electrical-charges would be all the energy we need to patch the weapons into, and eliminate even the most massive of swarms.

Even if we are able to strengthen our weapons, the possibility of high-voltage traps is a real danger. As well, the massive swarms’ power draw from the area might ground our guns, making them useless. It is a heavy burden on all of our shoulders that we might see an unfavorable ending to this fight.

Whether or not the news that returns changes anything is not something any would wish to speculate on. There is no point in riling ourselves up. We must focus on a supply run before we can mount any sort of offensive.

Sometimes I think of that young CEO, whatever his name, to fuel my anger and hatred towards these swarms. There is no way now that the man can ever reclaim any title to a fascist throne. I have to wonder, is hidden away in one of his mansions? Is he cowering in fear, or laughing in the face of his fortune and fame amidst the chaos of his shortsighted ambitions? More importantly, did the man surround himself with these Pods? Was he slaughtered outright like the countless others who’ve died at the hands of their own, deluded dreams?

Our scouts returned with word that the swarm is amassing at the substation. They were able to meet with our caravan from town. Travel is slow from desiccated streets, but our people continue to be well fed. The attack is to be planned. My colleague and I suggest detonating homemade explosives within the substation. Any possible chain reaction they much cause would send surges of electricity through the area, that might be capable disabling the swarms. Afterward, we would inevitably begin mopping up the last of the surviving swarms of nanites. Most we have discussed this with agree.

It is a curious thing to plan attacks on microscopic creations, once so prevalent and revered by our society. Now we must hunt them without mercy, for that is what they’ve shown us. It may be a fatalist assertion, for there is no way for them to show mercy, they’ve no concept of it. It’s possible they’ve no concepts at all, though the concept of domination appears to have emerged within them. It is possible, so sophisticated is their programming, that they were told to learn from our dreams to help make them a better experience and present us the greatest challenge. In the grand scheme, this is humanity’s dream: To triumph as one group over adversaries whom view us as enemies, forgoing regards of our own petty differences we’ve concocted over the eons.

What a strange and terrible platitude to behold, but perhaps it has been the solution all along; for now we do band together as one. We have risen up as a unified group, protected the weakest of us, fought together whilst bypassing the prejudice, bigotry, and indifference that has otherwise been so prevalent. The road ahead is no doubt filled with either victory or tragedy, triumph or terror, hope or hopelessness. In any case, it will be a long road.