Short Story: Sodden Holo

Sopping mud trails formed miniature canyons in the streets. As if some precise giant had dug slender fingers into the Earth between sections and sides of town. Carts, wagons, their beasts of burden, and all other manner of creatures formed them.

Their sopping troughs were scattered about town between what little remained of eroded, patchwork-cobble. What remained of once-prominent holographic projectors and neon signs glowed and flickered dimly advertising everything from taverns to seamstresses, buds to brothels. The opaque movements of a thousand different advertisements and static signs belched Technicolor light onto stone and rotting-wood.

That disease of neglect, civic abandonment, stretched across the almost-forgotten township.

But within Sodden Holo, it was the Empire that was forgotten. Life was squalor, no doubt, but squalor of a kind with charm and routine. The type only available when living in freedom, without a mythical force beyond the realm to oppress. Because it cared not for them nor they for it, they were passive.

Then the caravan came.

They’d holed up outside town two days before anyone attempted contact. Then, sent a trio of armed men to the tavern. They wore black and green and gold, and asked questions. Many questions. Gruffly and rudely: on where to secure supplies, seek shelter, the names of prominent men and women and aldermen.

Already these vectors of disease had begun to infect, spread. Money. The stranglehold. They’d throw it around, hoping to mesmerize or hypnotize. Great mounds of it. Gold, silver, copper– jewels even. They’d trade anything, had everything or access to it. Like any siege engine, if allowed, that money-disease would go to work breaking down walls.

Fact was, people in Sodden Holo didn’t much care for money or the Empires. They gummed up the works, but were not seen as evil. Money in particular was no evil, but rather another tool to barter with. As equal to that of gold or silver in the eyes of the trader and their desire.

This was the Empires’ new kind of war. One of economics. For hearts, minds. Not permanent, but enough to quell the fringes ready to rise in revolt. As in every iteration of civilization, it was yet another overlord’s controls. The Empires, when it mattered most, lavished wealth upon people like confetti, but only for adoration’s sake. Never stability’s.

People furthest from the constant influx of money– Empirical capitals and the like– were beginning to piece that together. Money however, when it could not quell the occasionally rising tempers, gave excuse for lashing-out against one’s own people.

Times were that every Human was an island and ruler unto their self. Between then and now, it had become painfully clear that was no longer the plan for greater Humanity. Some people were allowed that, sure: rulers, mostly. The other 99 times out of 100, they weren’t. About 85 of those 99 meant being smeared in shit and grime the rest of one’s life regardless of those privileged few.

That was Humanity’s choice. Long made in a world far-longer gone. In a time and people that no longer existed. Human-Social had given way, violently, to Human-Servile. Whatever side one chose, the bitter reality was clear: servitude was undeniably its base.

Whether serving the wealthy, their associates, their system of wealth-creation, or anyone else therein, it was impossible not to be beneath someone.

But that was a world and way of thinking long-off for Sodden Holo. Neither glamour nor shine existed there, technicolor belches notwithstanding, save on the local boot-black’s corner. How could it? Half the town was streaked in mud all the warmer months, frozen over the rest. It knew of life in the colors of grit and grime, the scents of grass and cow shit.

In short, through the ways of the land, its inhabitants, their effects on it.

For those passing through, it was obvious this was a land separate, but governed. Whomever did the governing, they knew, did it well enough so the only signs of civic neglect were the roads the Holo could not repair without all-important and scarcematerials traded mostly by Empirical quartermasters or tradesmen. It was a way of strangle-holding the people from establishing Empires without their knowledge.

But progress was inexorable. Its tide could not be diverted forever, nor without constant attention to details, lest the dam crack asunder.

Yet time and people marched on. Roads appeared. Trails. All of them, it seemed, led through Sodden Holo– at some point. Distant or rare as it was for some, it was undeniable.

They were a crossroads hub, but not the kind one thought of lightly. Rather, it was one all travelers ended up in by misfortune. It didn’t judge. Nor did its people. But they, like it, knew it was no-one’s intended stop. Yet that need not mean a traveler feel unduly unwelcome either.

They took no quarter for the worst of atrocities, of course, like most decent folk. Only when bitten did the hand that fed, strike out though. Especially against those most unforgivably biting. What Dante might have termed, “Treason against one’s benefactors.” To that, such punishments never came unduly, nor ever with malice but meant to correct.

That didn’t mean it couldn’t turn bloody.

In hindsight, people came to realize, that was what the Empire had underestimated. That people wouldn’t give it the same disregard it gave them. They’d sent a caravan of Empirical guards to enact a trade-war on a free economy. Rather than send ambassadors to join or appraise it, they sought to take it by force, with nary a thought to those effected.

Hindsight couldn’t change those effects.

Their intent became apparent the second day the envoy visited town– fifth since their appearance overall. It was raining. A typical persistent and swampy mist citizens and drifters had come to expect of Sodden Holo, its surroundings: warm, and smelling of earthen protection rising from the very ground beneath their feet.

Reason had left most of those in the pubs. Meanwhile, the tension of the envoy’s encampment, brewing since its appearance, had soured and afouled a great many moods.

The air was rife with power. As those trembling within the tavern were well-aware, it was a power no mortal dared tempt. All it would take to set the power alight was the wrong actions within it. The wrong minds, the type that cared not for maintaining peace or others’ ways.

Five of them entered the tavern. Two remained near the door, guarding ‘til further orders. Two more escorted a third between them. He was tall, scrawny. Spectacles perched on his face, he looked and moved like an old Eagle– perpetually down-looking, on the hunt.

He approached the bar, calling for the tender to procure the manager.

The tender laughed, “You dunno how things work a-roun’ ‘ere.”

His tone sharpened, “I beg your pardon?”

“No. You don’t. You come in ‘ere with your bloody gold and silver, try to buy the place. Why else would you lot come in, all pompous, clutchin’ that ledger like some kind’a King bout to lay his prick on the bar?

“I ain’ sellin you nor your dogs another drink ‘til I get some answers. I been Alderman of Sodden Holo, twen’y years. Empires never given us the time’a day. Never answered our letters or requests for help.

“All the same, we get by. ‘Cause we hav’ta. You come in here, wanna lay your prick on my bar like I don’t know what’s bout to happen. But I’m tellin you, I’ve seen prick-whippin’ enough times I can sense it a mile off.”

The shrewd man’s face snarled. The bar was deathly silent. The tender eyed the two ruffians beside him; former mercs, paid better as Empirical Guardsmen for their skill in battle. These were not men to be lightly crossed.

The tender’s face hardened at hints of blood-lust on the air. The power had turned. Sodden Holo would soon be bathed in blood.

“You g’wan and put your prick out, mister. ‘N I’ll make sure to cut it to size for you.”

A hiss. “The nerve!

Someone screamed. Metal clashed. The power erupted, releasing ferocity across the tavern. Chaos of bodies and limbs flayed. Blood sprayed. An all-out melee began and ended within seconds. By the end, the bar stank of blood and bowels, beneath echoing screams from dying and injured.

The Alderman-Tender was busy bandaging a gash in a woman’s arm when he called to, “Raze the Envoy’s camp. Leave nothing standing!”

Every man and woman capable would need to be ready. The Empire would be coming.

The tender looked over the ruins of his bar, knowing for the better of all he should have sold out. But if he had, what would be left of him to help his people, his home? The Empire was not the way forward for Sodden Holo, that much had always been obvious.

But would there be any way forward now? He wasn’t sure.

Unable to dwell, he moved on, too swept up in doing what he knew all would soon be doing: preparing for war.

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Short Story: Cruel and Cunning

America.

Uh, Yeah. Okay.

Nobody’s sure what the hell happened. Even the people that were there– Corp. Wage-slave. Government. Innocent Bystander. Johnny Reb. No-one has an explanation. There is no clear record of what happened. All that’s ever heard is, “one thing led to another.” Or, “‘N that’s when all hell broke loose.” Never clear explanations, only vague outlines.

Truth is equally vague, but even a silhouette can tell all if well-enough formed by its negative space.

Less of the day-to-day is known, but the broad strokes are clear. Then again, Americans never functioned well on that time schedule. Inside, they were all fat suits sipping lemonade in the sun. Each one an island unto their self, untouchable and eternal.

Just like the ads promised.

Problem of course, was neither commercial nor lemonade was real. The lemonade was corporate-machine processed powder and water, spiked with ignorance and cynicism, and slowly but certainly eroding critical thinking patterns.

Because hey, who needs brains in constant, happy sunshine?

In reality, the ad was just a commercial. Subtle propaganda lulling people into buying the imagery they were being sold and most identified with. It was voluntary, mental slavery. Indenturing self to serve self for want of pure, ignorant bliss.

Then the real world broke in.

Trade-tower attacks woke a lot of people up. It’s the only explanation for what came after. Negative-space again. And without that influx of people being forced to stop, look, everything to come afterward– the crashes, the wars, The Fall– would never have happened.

Or it would’ve happened on smaller scales, and much later, when it no longer mattered what corps were doing because Humanity would have so far surpassed them– while being condemned in the process, of course.

But those things did happen; the towers did fell. The police-state rose in their place, and corps bought and built it through their universal currency of power. No-one would be stupid enough to argue that chain of events. Were they, that person would be calmly but quietly escorted away not to return until their age of reason.

That’s one thing the corps did teach; human-relations. Mostly, through being completely devoid of empathy or sympathy within it. Thereafter, people realized what they’d been missing from life. The utter lack of the Human element in a Human system was what formed the basis of all progress afterward.

That is why bitterness about the corps reign, by-and-large, does not exist: In the end, it was a willing trade for the growth society gained. It would not have been had they not grown, but they did. All sums totaled, Society accepted what had happened.

Corps had taken over because people let them. Then, in due fashion, Corps kept doing what they wanted on the basis that, well, people probably didn’t care enough to do anything about it. Some did. Then eventually all of them did, but only after being buried by the ignorant bullshit they’d built-up around themselves.

Negative space tells it all began for America, after the WTC attacks. Corporations began doing what they felt then. It was cruel and cunning, but not entirely unforeseen– and as a result, infinitely more egregious.

America was gearing up for war, supposedly to hunt those responsible for their fresh wounds. Meanwhile, Corp-reps– so-called “lobbyists,” pressed cases on overburdened and still-mourning government officials.

In time of course, they offered to “share the weight” by “shouldering responsibility;” all double-speak for the corporate take-over and transference– or theft, of power. By the same process, they eventually convinced the military to shift its focus before eliminating what they could of it.

Because what was good for America, was good for the world. And vice-versa. When America needed all the good it could get, no-one dared go against them. It took over a decade before most were even willing to admit that catch-22 as fact. Until then, things were going south. Fast.

And nowhere worse than state-side.

Sweeping reforms, pushed by lobbyist’s politicians on the take, rewrote whole law-books in legalese so thick even the best-educated couldn’t decipher them. In reality, they were coded transcripts of the take over. All very legal and by the books of course, but why not when the beneficiaries were writing them?

Stage set, America hit its first crisis since the attacks and the war; the ‘08 crash.

An economy once the world’s envy was instantly crippled. The financial sector, already bleeding from poor decisions, panicked and set in motion a near-total bankruptcy. Now, those suffering were the same corporations that had bought select, elected officials. Ones whom, due to the laws they’d written then, were allowed to remain in power. As repayment, the corps took billions in “bailouts” and ultimately, ran off with it.

No-one ever answered for the crime.

The American Way was shaken. Faith in it doubly-so. Then, controversial elections and divisive politicians– and once-solved human-rights issue– utterly fractured its foundation. War had reduced government trust to all-time lows and put people in fear.

It was painfully clear; America was but one, missed-meal from revolt.

The people there needed closure and certainty– for what they’d suffered and what they would yet be forced to. At an individual level, it’s citizens felt the same even if their methods differed fundamentally.

Negative space is certain; neither of those things ever manifested.

The corporations, whom caused the recession to begin with, used the guise of need to consolidate credit and capitol from bankrupted competitors. In this way, they bought and sold debts and contracts to collect on until only the very worst offenders remained for sale. Those unable to collect eventually sold off what remained to others and quit the game.

Again, all very above-board and legal, but ultimately, engineered.

With nowhere for those remaining assets to go but the hands of those hardest hit, the most affected vied for flotation devices to keep themselves from drowning while kicked for the shore of fiscal solvency. Their success cemented the foundation of all that came later.

Some corporations, with earnest hopes of repairing mistakes or not– and if only for their own survival– were given rafts. The rest sank and drowned in the first-come first-serve lifeboat handout.

The corps left, their execs were going down with the ship. Already half-soaked, and now scorned by one-time bribes inevitably for naught, they took what had come their way and ran via legalese loopholes they’d written themselves.

Once more, cruel and cunning.

In months, those left wished they’d done the same. Once they did, the markets had already flooded with reds. Nothing could be done but to let the corpses sink so any survivors might be picked from the flotsam afterward.

With an economy only barely in the black, it was a wonder any corp survived.

It’s also no wonder those that did became so immense. Suddenly left with so much abandoned property and credit, the most they could do was zero out what wasn’t useful, put the rest to work.

Worst case scenarios, were things going into long-term, digital storage as “resource” until it might be useful or “liquid” later. A property too rundown to use was worth more cleared. Whether the clearing was worth it, as always, was a matter of risk/reward ratios.

Meanwhile, new Titans were overtaking their elderly counterparts. Tech, net, and entertainment sectors flourished as industries par-none. These slick, new-moneyed college grads and dropouts with less street-wit than road-kill, overtook the eldest of the old-money’s projections.

Wealth even Scrooge McDuck couldn’t have dreamt.

Avarice in their eyes, the old-money bellied their way over like maggots crossing sidewalk. They began taking back what they’d abandoned, nosing their way in via advisory positions and consultancies to recon and research these new industries.

Only after better understanding, and dissemination of it through their circles and education, could the “old money” truly retake control through their specially-trained kids– from old-money schools– that learned to blend with their “lesser” peers.

In effect, the world was nearly destroyed by a group of college kids blending seamlessly with the rest. Yet the simple fact was, these groups were breeds apart. One more cruel and cunning than ever and couriering dangerous knowledge for one, specific purpose.

That purpose was cultivated over lifetimes of grooming from ever-crueler, more cunning mentors. Each generation, further-conditioned to use them without thought and at the best of times for desired effect. Generally, that amounted to twisting the knife so that their prey felt it. Pain was the length they’d go to, to get their object of money, using a knife eternally cutting people’s throats to pay when told or suffer a fate worse than death.

Seeing any resistance would be slow and difficult, would-be opponents merely jumped ship. Too comfortable, wealthy, and not needing nor wanting, they’d effectively exiled themselves only to possibly return afterward, if welcome.

Otherwise, fuck it.

When it became obvious the government was no longer listening, the economy had officially stabilized. Yet basic needs remained unmet. What once were “guaranteed rights” of the “greatest country in the world” were now “priced to match.”

Such basics to civilization as education and healthcare, free or near-enough since their conception, could and would bankrupt people. The subtle duality of that impliedif one could not affordone or both, one deserved neither.

In reality of course, controlling these two things most easily safeguarded against an unruly populous.

Generations raised with espoused values of education, goodness, and dreams were pushed to the brink. Force-fed them before the corps rigged the game,those dreams collided with reality when they otherwise need not have.Soon, people of legitimate value and motivation were left indebted before their lives might begin.

The problem? Their skills were equally valuable but more theoretical than practical, thus giving them no place in a machine of corporatism that cared only for numbers. Numbers are infinite; patience is not.

Enter the next American election.

Typically, American culture cycled with presidents. The era in question would’ve been no different were America’s culture not so twisted from the recent corporate history. Really,two, competing cultures existed none yet recognized:

One was personal, real. The other, corporate; an avatar-illusion built by corporate sales and P-R.

If people’d known then, the culture they fedvoting was the one what they were hoping to fight, they’d never have been swallowed by it. It never would’ve gotten so far. They’d have seized the booths put someone deserving in power without altering the system entirely. That of course, required the game be level– which it had not been.

For a very long time.

That it wasn’t, assured the eventual outcome. Only once the game and the system were revealed as two sides of the same coin could their whole be examined.Unfortunately, the US system of democracy was so corrupt everything was too little too late. Even the parliamentary systems ended with held ground, managing never to disappear entirely– if only due to their relegated position as bureaucratic, hard-copy, file-managament.

The US had allowed corps a foothold. With it, they then took control. Total control.

Negative space once more tells that America isolated itself. Politically. Socially. Economically. No longer a superpower, it withdrew from global markets, leaving fertile ground for corporate takeovers via the power-vacuum that remained.

Outside throwing oneself onto a pike, hoping to form the launch-pad for the next unlucky bastard trying to get over the wall, there was no hope. Getting out meant money, passports, digital and physical files going back years. Those lucky enough to make it over went alone, left everything behind, and never looked back.

It was the first time in history people weredefecting from the USA.

Little-by-little, the exodus continued until the war finally toppled the walls entirely and the tattered remnants wandered out. By then, the country was ruins– whether places or people. Infrastructure was gone. Financial records. Land-deed and title-information. Gone. No-one owned anything, and nothing made money anymore.

All anyone could do was flee for survival. Some went North, finding refuge in the Canadian wilderness whose more robust trades had survived. Although only largely from the same, laboriously slow death the governments themselves succumbed to.

Credit to them; the Canadians once more weathered the storm of their southern neighbors, though considerably more afflicted than usual. Negative space states the obvious cause as War. Just like everywhere else. It was merely indirect.

Paris looked better during the Incident’s fighting and Berlin looked better afterward than America ever would again.

In the same, ironic way Americans never seem to see coming, they’d finally gotten the wars they’d wanted. Real wars. Not manufactured, but from need. Their brutal atavism was simply the release of repressed rage building since the Atomic era erection and the Cold War blue-balls.

Without possessions to muzzle them, Americans became wild animals, lashing out.

Once Paris was retaken, fighting began everywhere. It needed to happen. Yet because of the takeover’s totality, it needed to be done without the aid of any arm of the “global” resistance. By then, it hardly mattered; people’d been worked to a frothing rage, rabid from the virality of the abuses against them.

America became an apocalyptic ruin without need for an apocalypse.

Three generations raised to believe in wholesome righteousness, force-fed violence and fear, had no other choice but to explode. It was only fears of the aftermaththat had kept people in-check. Once that became the lesser of evils, they reacted.

By then, post-apocalyptic scenery was better than reality’s concentration-camp walls.

Negative space dictates guerrilla warfare eventually won the day; individual stories, hearsay, rumors. They all agree that America finally won Vietnam, but only after playing host to it. Stories from combat vets are numerous, however dubious. Each one reveals, little-by-little, an inherent cell-structure in their tactics . How it was formed seems obvious in the way that wave-length, hive-mentality is obvious.

Certain places, hit repeatedly for supplies or to weaken corp lines, were done seemingly at random. The unspoken understanding between the different aggressor-groups that it was where best to strike and when. Cells were small enough to strike fast; in a matter of only days or weeks, whole campaigns were against single corps, bringing them down.

It was not without causalities or cost, as the ruins show. It was a system of warfare allowing for weakness to be located and exploited to its fullest and without delay. The same game the corps had tried to play, but were too big for, too slow. Just as the system before them. They’d simply been smaller and faster than them. Their prey numerous enough to overcome it. If only once. Individuals however, were much smaller, and even small groups of them were effective if their strategies were applied properly.

Eventually, they were. Entirely.

In the end what finally killed America’s corps was attrition. Irony is, it was the same way they’d taken power. Once more students became masters and the old guard fell. The final blow was struck perfectly, more cruel and cunning than ever before until all that remained were smoldering ruins of once-bloated, corporate corpses.

So there it is, for the record; America. Brave and bold. Right up ’til it imploded.

Short Story: All The Angles

Everything’s perception. Or a matter of it, anyway. I knew that even then. I know it more now. For the bulk of my life I’d been learning more and more about perceptions, perspectives. The “views” of situations. The “angles,” as some would say. The “spin” others called it. So, when the end of the world was in sight, I’d seen it coming.

How? Simple: over years of training to recognize varying angles, I learned one simple reality. That, as it happens, is the reason people are told to examine things from multiple angles. That, as it happens, is to learn to distinguish fact from fiction. In simplest terms, by viewing all the angles, we humans see the truth– because it’s consistent no matter the angle.

So before belaboring the subject any further, let’s just say, I’d learned to see well. In all respects, I had keen sight. I saw the proverbial tidal wave from far off. It had been rising for months. The tides had been drawing back. Little-by-little, the sands lengthened. Day in, day out, the water receded.

I suppose this build-up lasted years, really. There’s some argument there, no matter the angle. One could argue the first moment after the previous tidal-wave was the true start of the next’s build-up. Conversely, the build-up could’ve been said to begin the moment before the wave first struck the shore. No matter what side you viewed it from though, a single fact appears; world’s-end was coming.

No matter the arguments about it, the build-up did have milestones. Those stones are obvious, in reflection. Even then, there was a scent to them– like oncoming rain, but the bad kind that makes you dread breathing.

Politically speaking, world’s-end was the result of a misstep. The Americans had always had two left feet. They’d proven, time and again, their “moral majority,” was anything but. No matter the angle, they were shown to be prone to making missteps. Everyone’s bound to make ’em though. No harm, no foul, right? Especially when glass-houses and stones are so plentiful, right?

Maybe. That’s an argument for another day. Or not– after all, the world’s over, and there’s no-one left to argue. Semantics. The point: the Americans started it. They’d made their mistakes. Those mistakes piled on. Often. In the end, they found themselves with a third-world dictator in charge.

At least, characteristically speaking.

The man wasn’t really a third-world dictator. He could’ve been. Everyone agreed on that. The angles too. Speculation says we’d have been better off if he were. He wasn’t. Problem was, America was still a super-power– or as much as there remained one in those days.

That moniker had been fading. The world was industrialized. More than it had ever been. The African bush had freshly-paved asphalt. Desert oases had turned to fuel stops.

In other ways, the moniker was as strong as ever. Most of all, with regard to militaries. Those of keen sight saw where madness might form. Those without, sensed its death-toll in the air’s copper-taste. Whatever the angles of the human species’ end eventually show, they’ll agree it was spectacularly dreadful.

Surprisingly, the cause wasn’t full-blown nuclear war. People had come to expect that. Personally, I was somewhat looking forward to it. It wasn’t zombies either. Another thing we’d come to expect. Then again, there were enough of those walking around– we called them voters.

No, in the end, it was just missteps and mistakes. Nuclear weapons were involved, but not in the apocalyptic exchange we’d expected. What happened was this:

The US screwed up. They sent the CIA into the mid-east to do some things. Secret things. Eventually, the CIA used what they’d gained during that doing of things to send some mercenaries to North Korea. Those CIA “assets” had a period of doing, too. Somehow it was learned the assets were CIA, and were wreaking havoc on the “glorious leader.”

North Korea was angry. North Korea was “Best Korea.” Best Korea made threats. China disavowed Best Korea. Everyone had known Best Korea had nuclear weapons. They weren’t much. “Baby’s first” nukes. Then again, a nuke’s a nuke, right? Right. Dangerous. Deadly. Best Korea’s nukes couldn’t go far. They didn’t need to.

Best Korea, in its infinite wisdom, nuked Other Korea. Specifically, Seoul. As it turns out. Baby’s first nukes were enough to completely irradiate Other Korea. The world turned against Best Korea. They were finally tired of Glorious Leader’s shit. Both he and Best Korea were wiped from the Earth like shit from a bunghole.

This was a problem for one, simple reason; the US was not involved. Russia was not involved. China was not involved. Although, China wanted to be involved, they weren’t. Too many people owed them too much money. They didn’t want to owe them more. Unfortunately, wiping clean the shit hole that was North Korea had shown the allied-nations, spearheaded by the UK, that they had power.

The UN didn’t quite like that. China didn’t quite like it either. The US liked it even less. Russia only pretended to like it because the US didn’t like it, but privately condemned it too. Soon enough, the UK and its allied-nations thought being able to wipe clean parts of the world without Super-power assistance was a pretty good thing. Everyone else still didn’t like it.

So what happened? How’d the US screw that up? Well, the US had a third-world dictator as President. That meant a super-power was being run like a third-world country– even deeper into the ground than it had been. In the process, it racked up a sizable debt to all of the other nations on Earth.

And, another misstep and mistake later the angles come in again. They’re important here. Regardless of arguments, they all show one thing: a mistake was made. China got pretty pissed about that mistake. Because China was pissed, Russia was pissed. Because China and Russia were pissed, the UK and its allies acted like they weren’t pissed. Actually, they were pretty pissed too.

The UK. They’d done a lot for the US. Naturally, they decided to show how big a fuck-up the US had made. They did so by tanking the US economy and liquidating the assets leveraged against the US debt to the UK. Russia and China, smelling money, did the same thing.

The UK got angry: they’d been trying to prove a point. Russia and China were being bullies. America was now a depressed wasteland. It had become the third-world country its president always hoped for. Incidentally, he died of a kind of dysentery not found in first world nations. Irony is delicious that way.

Anyway, the UK, Russia, and China decided to argue for a while. Then, they decided they were all angry with each other. Then they decided to fight over the scraps of the US. Then they decided to fight each other in Europe. By the end of it, 98% of the world’s population had been conscripted, drafted, and killed in the longest, bloodiest war ever conceived.

No matter what angle you look at it from, that’s pretty amazing. All that death. All that chaos. All that civilization. Gone. Beautiful, in a way.

Bonus Short Story: The Plague

That horizon ahead? It used to be alive. It was more real than the stars and a million times brighter, like someone had cut holes through reality to the multicolored fabric beneath. The glow could be seen for miles, and it would’ve rushed toward you as soon as it would’ve appear from nowhere. That was before everything; before the misery, before the plague, before the end of the world.

It didn’t happen like we thought it would. There was no nuclear exchange. No zombie outbreak. No horsemen. There was just sickness, death, the stink of poverty and grief. Even the war didn’t really hit us in the States, not until the retaliation strikes wiped us out. It was our own fault.

I remember hearing the air-raid sirens; It was one of those typical Tuesdays, or as typical as they’d become with the state of things. The media were screaming nonsensical ravings about imminent destruction. They’d always done that though, the narrative had just changed, the rhetoric shifting from general to pointed. Instead of offhandedly implying certain things would cause a certain end, news-anchors and pundits began to say this would cause that end. It was all very intentional, charismatic fear-mongering, but no-one thought they’d be right.

It wasn’t like we’d have been able to do anything about it anyhow. The US economy had collapsed, just like most others’, and the rest of the world was following more by the day. Most of us had leveraged our national assets to the Chinese in exchange for debt relief. After all, they had the largest workforce in the world, and with their communist-state becoming more democratic by the day, they were on the rise. Debt relief came in the form of trillions of dollars, but with the obvious caveat that those whom defaulted forfeited those leveraged assets. What a fucking mistake. It was the worst bargain ever, and no-one I know– or knew– thought otherwise.

But the politicians and governments thought it was the greatest thing since sliced-bread. The propaganda, media-machine kicked into overdrive, and we started hearing more about how good it all was and would be. All the while, people were getting more and more angry, protesting and threatening to riot, feeling more and more as if they’d been sold into slavery. Eventually, they were proven to have a point, but at the time, everyone was too angry to speculate.

We should have though. All of us. Maybe then someone would’ve hit upon the kernel of truth in what was to come. Maybe, just maybe, we’d have seen the shit-storm on the horizon and been better prepared to batten the hatches when it arrived. We weren’t and that’s ultimately how that horizon died.

Every country has its own story, but as far as the US goes, it was the steel industry that went first. American steel had built the world for almost two hundred years, but coal had become scarce, oil more expensive, and exportation more difficult. Tariffs and embargoes, imposed by the UN countries, eventually forced us to close up shop, but not before our number one industry was bled dry by money-hungry vultures.

Hundreds of thousands were suddenly, and immediately, out of work. Their Unions threw them to the wolves, then fought for the scraps before ending up euthanized by political mistakes and missteps. When the unemployment rates came in, they’d tripled. The next election cycle proved to only be a catalyst to the chaos, with both sides proclaiming to have the answer. They were easy answers to extremely complex problems though, and everyone with sense worth a damn saw it. Funny, it still didn’t save us…

The problems spread; without cheap, easy access to steel, the auto-industry went belly up. It didn’t hurt that our Chinese “saviors” were the new, number-one steel producers, and were hiking their prices up higher than a whore at a garter-convention. It was probably the first time in history the Chinese had managed to piss off both Americans and Russians in such equal measure.

Of course without the auto-industry, public sectors began to break down. Everything from public transit to car-dealers felt the blow. The big three were dead, and like big-steel, had taken a large portion of the country with it– to say nothing of the culture around them. Then, because of the lack of vehicles, big-oil took the hit too. They rode out the end of the world in style, of course, still able to export most of their stock, but to an utterly discarded reputation state-side.

Only a few of the newer, electric-car manufacturers seemed to hold to any scrap of hope, but the tech still wasn’t there, and the cars cost twice the average salary. In a country with a 30% unemployment rate, it wasn’t hard to see how fast they were going to fail if they didn’t compensate. Eventually, their compensation killed them off anyway. With them went any hope of renewable energy alternatives– and a few-hundred-thousand more jobs.

With all of that upper-middle class money gone, simple things like supermarkets and department stores started closing down. Unemployment shot up to 50%, the rich got richer, and the poor were so destitute most were dying. Even the government couldn’t help anymore. Most of their biggest money-making assets had been snatched up by Chinese companies to pay back the debt. It wasn’t long before it was merely simpler to close-up shop a world away and bring the businesses home.

It was total, economic collapse. The only thing we had left was the military, and it was the only time their bloated, runaway budget had ever seemed like a good thing. It had given them fiscal padding, enough to keep soldiers, sailors, and fighter-jocks in chow and shelter. Eventually though, the bombs fell, and none of that mattered anymore.

I couldn’t tell you who shot first. Maybe it was us. Maybe it was them. Both sides had good reasons. We were biting the hand that fed us, bitching and whining alongside the rest of the world, while the Chinese were trying to slap us down for it. I guess I don’t disagree with their stances; we made the deal and failed to uphold it. They merely enforced the terms and we turned on them for it. Whoever shot first seems less important now that everything’s gone. Or rather, now that everyone is gone.

We thought they were nuclear ICBMs when we saw them on the news. A couple of sat-images and alarms came blaring in over the televisions on emergency broadcasts. The Air-force scrambled squadrons to intercept, but the Chinese had been expecting it. They weren’t nukes. They were chemical bombs filled with something called Substance-42. It was like a combination of chlorine gas and Ebola. The first people dead were the pilots, but it didn’t matter, we’d done exactly what they’d wanted.

We blasted apart those ICBMs mid-air and the resulting debris contaminated the entire country. In less than a month, it was the continent. Four-hundred million people died in the first two months. Most of the rest went in the next few; twisted, mangled corpses of either retching poison-victims, or blood-drained casualties. It was like someone had opened a vein on the world, replaced the oceans with blood.

Those of us immune were considered lucky. Sure, lucky…. Lucky is dying in your sleep after a long, full life, or hitting the lottery and retiring early. Nothing about this was lucky. The ones that died were lucky. They didn’t have to watch the world go to an even deeper hell than it had been in.

But I did, because I survived.

Without industry, and with most of our country dead or dying, the war ended. Before the TV-stations went off-air, they’d said that the infection had just hit mainland Asia and was sweeping Europe. Even some dumb bastards who’d fled their countries had managed to infect Australia and most of the world’s islands.

I don’t know how many are left, but I know we’ll never survive. The virus they used mutated, killed off most of the animal life. If you can even find it to hunt, you eat it raw or over pioneer fires. Nothing else in this world works anymore. All the fuel is gone, all the public utilities, all the power, water, and heat.

I don’t know how long I’ll survive, but I’ve only seen a few people since the war ended. Terrifying, considering how dense and overpopulated Chicago used to be. I know there aren’t many of us left now. There isn’t much of anything left, really. Maybe the Chinese didn’t unleash a plague, maybe they’d just harnessed it– or maybe, just maybe, they’d eradicated that last true plague on the planet; humanity.

We were a blight on the universe, it seems. I guess now that we’re all dead the scales are balanced again…