Short Story: Good Show

Helicopter blades thumped in percussive repetition. Their drives whirred a piercing whine behind headsets and through gaps in pilot speech that bleeding over them. The AW101, callsign Lancelot, banked wide against a black sky. SAS veteran Lft. Alfred Douglas watched his rag-tag team of would-be mercenaries hang against their safety-belts. Still unaccustomed to operational flight, only one stood out as having been in any way prepared for the shift.

That operative, former MI5 agent Daniella Dawn, was all but sleeping. She had the former-agent/soldier mentality of rest as the highest of luxuries to be indulged whenever and wherever possible. Having spent most of her adult life in-air or on infiltration ground-side, this was just another day for her. Douglas couldn’t claim quite as many flights, but found himself aligned regardless.

Unfortunately, he was also leading the mission. What once would’ve been termed “command,” was now something more akin to a small group of shared ideals. He and the others were ideological mercenaries; soldiers in the same sense that the American Revolution’s had been. They were paid, certainly, but to do a job they’d have done anyhow.

Ostensibly, they were fighting for freedom from tyranny. One greater, even, than that of a two-cent tea tax. In fact, this fight wasn’t about taxes at all. Perhaps indirectly, but Socialised as certain aspects of Brit-society were, equally more were exclusionary or smothering. None was a more egregious example of this than so-called state security. No-one aboard Lancelot knew that better than Douglas or Dawn, and most of all they knew what it meant in the modern age.

It meant cameras on every street corner. Rozzers with trunks of automatic weapons; indefinite detainment. No justice. It meant, that despite all their progress, the UK was turn of the century America. Parliament and their string pullers had seen how that went, and still found it a preferable alternative. They used men and women like Douglas and Dawn to raid and murder over drugs, guns, “illegal” porn– anything for an excuse to fear monger and flex authority, power.

The most terrifying thing wasn’t the force used. It wasn’t the media portrayals as righteous, or the “preventative measures” conveniently put in place in their wake; it wasn’t even the lack of public outcry. It was the simple, unassailable fact that a pattern had emerged. Every raid, bust, attack– run under the guise of counter-terrorism and state-security– were on the poor.

It was classism. Pure and simple. As if they hadn’t learned from the French Revolution centuries before. Then again, such imbecilic arse-hats couldn’t recall their own species as human, let alone that species’ own past.

Officially, the first riots began as a result of surveillance. The Nanny state, ever more intrusive, had crossed a line. Illegal porn was one thing, but no-one ever expected it to actually affect them. Proxies and such were the easiest way to overcome that, tech-wise. Boot-sales were the second best, although it required a physical intermediary– something to play it on. Unfortunately, the Nanny state had extended even to that, making it impossible for the average person to have electronics that weren’t also being monitored.

Those same systems monitoring the cameras monitored everything else too. Inhuman speed. Inhuman response. Sub-human purpose. In the end, it wasn’t about security. It was about control. Power.

Douglas knew that. Dawn knew it. So did millions of others. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. No-one should have known that better than their countrymen. No-one. They’d been every form of tyrant yet somehow never learned it. At least, not the ones that mattered.

So, there was only one response; revolt.

The effect was a skyline ravaged in a way unseen since the Second Great War. It would never be the same now, no matter how many generations tried to preserve or rebuild it. It could never be what it was.

That was hardly a bad thing. They’d had it all those years before and it hadn’t made anyone remember how close it came to being lost. Perhaps it being gone would be the reminder the future needed. Time would tell.

Douglas turned from his introspection as Lancelot began to sink. They’d had the government on the run for weeks. What was left of it. Most of the Royal armed forces holding out were doing so more from fear. There’d been times to pick sides, long since past, and now that theirs had lost they feared retribution. At least someone had learned something from the French Revolution. If only the resistance had La Guillotine’s influence. Instead, they had only Alfred Douglas, Daniella Dawn, and their team.

Lancelottouched down outside a palatial estate. The kind of place Bond Villians might inhabit on the continent before spiriting away to their island lair in the second act.

But there was no second act here, just an end.

Douglas and Dawn split their eight man team in two. Each led their half out one side-door. They advanced through darkness in two lines, diverging at the edge of the main building. Like any elderly mansion of respectable heritage, the place was all stone and wrought-iron. Dawn wanted it turned to ash.

The place was good, Douglas knew. Better for infiltration. Small sounds didn’t travel as easily through stone. He was at the front door, stacking up; he at one side, his trio on the other. A radio click sounded. Dawn’s was team in place at the back-door. Each team prepped small bits of plastique. Two clicks. The plastique was ready. Three clicks, the three second count began.

Doors blew inward, locks pulverized.The teams charged in through smoke. The house was quiet. Eerily quiet. Smells of death, betrayed the immaculate cleaniness. The lights were on. The help was nowhere to be found.

Hand signals further divided the teams to searched the rooms in twos: Brass fixtures. Antique furnishings. Ever more luxuriant décor and pointless knick-knacks. A study. A kitchen. A dining room. Elegance. Power. All of it, empty.

The first floor was empty. The two upper-floors were empty.

The two teams regrouped at a cellar entrance; a dungeon, more-like. A long corridor of rooms both private and common led to a circular section. In moments, the teams were there, breaching into an old smoking parlor. The eeriness shattered to the peace of a modern tomb. Death-stink was heaviest here emanating from the six, dead bodies strewn about the furnishings. About them were drinks, hinting their self-poisoned contents with putrid scents.

Douglas straightened, at-ease in the wake of the empty home. Its purpose was obvious now. They didn’t want anyone to know. Douglas’ people into a more causal stance with him. Each one stood, confused, armed with an utter lack of purpose– all of them, save Dawn.

She followed Douglas to the bodies, instantly recognizing a few: A former PM turned advocate. A magistrate justice. A current ambassador. These men weren’t directly in power. Rather they were in places beside power– the better to manipulate things and retain benign appearances. Their faint stink said they’d been dead a day or two, but long enough for rigor and death’s other regularities to set in.

Douglas focused on an antique coffee table sitting between the various bodies. A single parchment, stamped with the old government’s seal bore official-looking signatures– no doubt those of thepresent and dead. Douglas lifted the page slowly, reading. Dawn watched, waiting, surveying the dead.

Douglas suddenly sneered, snarled, and shoved the paper at her. He turned and marched off. She read the handwritten script, still clearly legible:

We believed. Every step. Good show, old boy. Ta.

Dawn felt fury surge through her. Externally, she showed indifference. Douglas’ rage was evident; the resistance had won, but not on their terms. It was the last slight. Intentional, as everything ‘til now.

She crumpled the page, and followed Douglas out.

Short Story: Modern Day Trojan Horse

England had become a police state. It was all over the news; coppers in riot gear, clouds of tear gas, the city on fire. London burned. It wasn’t the first time. No-one was fool enough to believe it would be the last either. Nothing could stop burning, not then. Hell, maybe not ever.

It had started in Paris, with something called the Paris Incident. Basically, every cybernetic and bionically augmented person in Paris had finally had enough. They rallied to march on the city of light, waving banners to protest the corporate occupation there. Every major corp had some outlet in Paris then, still do now– almost makes everything that came after seem pointless.

The numbers were never officially recognized, but everyone saw it; thousands and thousands of people clustered butt-to-gut together, stomping their way through the city. They chanted, thrust signs upward; some with obvious bionics, others with theirs carefully concealed by proto-plastics that resembled skin. Still more were bone and flesh, normal humans fed up with the mistreatment of their friends, family, lovers. If they’d know then what was about to happen, maybe they would have run. Hell, maybe they wouldn’t have. Maybe it would have made them all the more determined to stand their ground, and they would have made a difference.

What sparked their tempers was a string of bad decisions that even today no-one understands. I know I don’t. Though the Augs had rallied behind a single image, an icon, for what became known as the Paris Incident, each of them had their own reasons to be there. Renee Lemaire was just the tip of the iceberg, a rally cry for a people already subjugated, oppressed. She’d supposedly been murdered after it had been discovered that her neural augs had been activated without her knowledge. Simply put, she was brain-hacked by some entity to do their dirty, wet-work. The casual observer of her eventually-public revelation would have blamed the French Government, but everyone else knew the Corps ran the government.

Even before she was killed in a car-bomb, supposedly another “tragic loss” for Locust Group Inc, her employers, the augs had long been mistreated. Corporate Security had taken over the streets of Paris in the years preceding the event, were particularly prejudiced against augs. Corp-sec had developed a strict beat-first, question-later policy. Just about every Aug in Paris had felt some measure of that prejudice.

So what the French had was a largely lawless flame burning in the hands of the Corps, and a powder keg of resentment in the form of mistreated, augmented humans. There was no way that shite wouldn’t catch, explode, and blow a few thousand people the hell. Christ, these people were the very reason half those corps had as much power as they did. Almost every Corp had some stake in physical or cyber augments. Half were even software providers for Neural and prosthetic augs from the other half. Still their own people were prejudiced against them. It was almost dizzying the level of hypocrisy: the augs kept the Corps in business, and the Corps paid corp-sec the augs’ money to beat ’em senseless.

I guess we should have expected the fucking horror show that came. Everyone had Lemaire as their symbol, but in their own ways, they each had their “Lemaire moments”– those times where because of what they were, or were associated with, they’d been looked down upon. Usually that downward look came from the end of a corp-sec barrel or fist. For those lucky few that escaped unscathed, the look came from at least atop a high-horse, however rare that was.

After the initial march began, it was clear that corp-sec wasn’t going to be able to contain thousands of people to the streets. Damn near all out chaos broke out then. No-one was sure what happened first– if someone threw a punch, a rock, a bullet and then corp-sec responded, or vice-versea– but it wasn’t long before they tear-gas was nearly choking people to death, and others were dead or bleeding from random shots fired into the crowds.

Paris became an all out blood-bath. Augs and norms alike were attacking corp-sec, corp-sec was attacking everyone not in their color uniform, and anyone not being attacked was fleeing before they were. I happen to know for a fact Aries Security Corp even took out a couple of Warhound Protection squads in the insanity. Whether this was an accident or just an opportunity to dent a rival corp’s bottom-line, no-one but the corps could say. Let’s face it though, if corps could talk, they still wouldn’t give a shit about telling the truth.

What I can say is that the blood bath didn’t end for almost two straight weeks. There was nearly a full-on civil war that raged after those first shots were fired. It was a while of people attacking corp-sec on hit-and-runs before they rallied to fight back… fight back, right. What the corps did would be classified as a war-crime if there were any governments left to charge them.

Basically, the corps banded together for once. A terrifying thought for a group hell-bent on cutting each other’s throats at every opportunity they got. Clearly it was in everyone’s best interests to nip the bud before it bloomed though. I think even the augs would have quit while they were ahead if they knew what was to come.

The mega-conglomerate dropped a few special deliveries on the 14th night after the marches turned into a massacre. Both Aries and Warhound birds– supersonic jets composed of all menacing points and screaming turbines– flew in squadrons over twelve different districts of Paris. Each one was residential, outside the territory of the corp’s own housing buildings. The packages they delivered lit the night sky with fountains of blood and fire.

Everyone in the world saw that. The corps wanted us to. It was a message; those of us that wanted could rationalize the move however we chose, but the corps were in power. To go against them in such a way as the augs had was to risk their wrath. And if the news-vids were anything to go by, that wrath was smite and hell-fire.

Of course everything was “authorized,” and “sanctioned” by the various governments, but those of us that knew the truth about the governments didn’t even bother to listen. The battle was polarizing. To a point where countless cities rose up in attempts to kick the corps out or offer safe-haven to the augs, or even declare their allegiance. Berlin was one of the safe-havens– notice past tense, was. To see it now, you’d almost think the blitzkrieg had turned on itself. I guess, in a way, it did.

London though, we’ve been of the first group. The uprising started roughly around the time the corps declared war on the people that didn’t serve them. Really, those people are slaves. They don’t have the same chains around their necks, or whips at their back, but crushing corporate debt and fear of stepping out of line work all the same.

I wish I could say I have hope, but I don’t. We’re really just trying to survive. We’re like Paris in a way; outlets of all the major corps nearby, and half our historic sky-line bombed to rubble. See, the thing is though, we’re English, so we don’t quite do things the same. We prefer to infiltrate the corps, poison them from the inside, then get out before the whole damned entity dry-heaves and withers.

I can’t help but straighten my tie in the mirror with a smug grin. I’m the Bond of the twenty-second century, and my evil villain’s my employer. I live large– as large as I can– off the corp while I sequester a little away for myself, or to the side for my comrades in the ghetto. I can’t help but feel a little sympathy for them, stuck in the damp and dank, wet cold while I’m riding penthouse suites to the bank. But I never forget my job here.

My counter-surveillance software makes sure too, that the corps don’t know I’m wired to the teeth with augs, neural and otherwise. One day, it will all be worth it. Until then, I just bide my time, feed a little information to the others like me. Or else, I fuck with the Corps a little more to keep them on their toes, keep them from watching when we extract someone important, or steal something to help us bring them down.

I’m like a modern day Judas and Trojan Horse all in one, and sooner or later, I’m gonna’ open up, bring this place to its fuckin’ knees. Lemaire might be dead, but the rally cry lives on. Whatever its purpose, I’m with the others; Viva Le Revolution!