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.

The Pod: Part 5

5.

Provisions

We deliberated a while on what to do next. After a period of rest, we concluded that the weapon must be mounted in an appropriately sized vehicle or trailer, powered by a gas generator meant for homes. We set about procuring the supplies.

Perhaps looting is the more apt term. The truth was, upon emerging from his home, My colleague and I found the scene worse than before. Looters were abound. The city had descended into all-out anarchy. Windows were being smashed all down the street. Homes were broken into, their owners still fighting for their lives and valuables. Some rightful residents were able to gain the upper hand, throwing their opponents into the streets bloodied and bruised. Others, lost in their own rights. Soon the thieves were seen running, light-footed, over bodies as they carried out their victim’s possessions.

Luckily, several levels of security on my colleague’s home protected his workshop and our weapon. The windows were of high strength Plexiglas, meant for use in tall office-buildings, thicker than normal. His front and rear doors were constructed of double-ply steel, set in heavy frames and bolted shut. Even the basement workshop was barred by one of these doors in addition to electronic and analog security locks. These were not the fruits of a paranoid man, but rather the result and value of the contents of his workshop. His work was not primarily his own. Very little was, in fact. Most consisted of several multi-million dollar projects of small research firms that, because of his idiosyncrasies, he was allowed to work on at home. Being that he was a well-respected man in his field, his employers readily gave such allowances.

After acquiring all that we would need from a hardware store, we hurried home in a large pick-up truck, stolen from a new vehicle lot. With the insanity around us, the crime was hardly unwarranted. Upon returning home, we found an eerie sight: The streets, previously filled with looters, rioters, and all manner of human-detritus, were now devoid of life. The neighborhood and surrounding blocks were silent. Had a mass exodus begun and concluded in so short a time?

We rolled to a stop outside his home, hurried inside to gather the weapon and any necessary tools, whilst the question festered in our minds. With the batteries aligned in the truck’s bed, there was just enough space for the alternators between they and the generator to connect to the weapon. My colleague set about configuring the weapon while I bolted its heavy tripod into place.

It was then that a sound came, shattering silence like a gunshot. It rocketed overhead from the West with a high pitched whine. It Doppler shifted, grew louder, passed by invisibly, then sank to a lower frequency. Then, once more, from the distant East.

It could not be true, could it? No man was so foolish, so short-sighted to dream it, were they?

It came at us from the West again; a beast possessed of an unnatural, synthetic survival, sonic-booming overhead. The shock-wave from its low flight and high speeds shook the truck, nearly deafened us. I worked faster to bolt the gun’s final leg down. My Colleague readied the batteries, switched on the gas generator. The gun climbed to a low rumble. The power increased, the rumble shifted higher to a whir its own. It was then that we glimpsed it, hovering on the horizon, studying us. Without conscious thought, I grabbed at the gun.

The massive fighter jet seemed to notice my intent and made for us. It began a passing run, spitting out imitation bullets composed of the nano-bots. They chipped at the ground, punctured cars with as much velocity and intimidation as their real counterparts might.

I had no fear. It was not an option. Not for a mind so bent on firing the weapon. I judged its trajectory, fired. The weapon’s concussive wave shoved the truck forward several inches. The blast of electricity traveled faster than anticipated, attracted to the mass of minute robots. It struck the nose, emanated through-out the swarm. The plane dissipated mid-attack, the bots fried and raining ember to the ground.

The weapon had worked. We knew what must be done. My colleague and I set off to gather as many survivors and materials as possible; to build weapons and an army to fire them. In time, all could be put right.