Short Story: Middle-Class Do-Gooders

Time and again the question’s come up, yet no satisfying answer’s ever given:

After the Paris Incident, where were the governments? Where were those elderly systems of altruism and virtue-true; justice, law and order?

Everyone has theories, but no-one quite yet comprehends their reality on a grand scale. The few that do offer only that, “it’s a long story.” In the end though, something must go on the record. Otherwise, the posthumous sigh of countless, government-workers’ fates might form a singularity. With the last collective breath before Humanity is collectively molded and compressed into one strand of spaghetti, we would all know the irony of being lost to poor record-keeping as they were.

So, for the record, where were the governments? Those gracefully aged systems of redundant, bureaucratic interconnectivity, flowing data, and utter nonsense?

They were on life-support and fading fast.

They’d held on for years; stubborn-vegetables that just wouldn’t go. The only time they were of any use was when the really-SOL-but-not-quite-criminally-so folks needed financial assistance. Usually, it was the last of the well-meaning middle-class kids that wanted to grow up, go to college, and fight the system from the inside, man.

What a crock of shit.

That’s the shit-ended stick those poor kids never knew they were grabbing. They grew up, training to fight for what was right, the way that was right. Then, just ended up chewed up and spit out anyway.

Not because you couldn’t fight the system from the inside, mind you. On the contrary, in fact. The system was meant to be fought from the inside. Or rather, manipulated. And really, only from a level of control such as afforded to those highest within that system.

And the middle-kids weren’t getting in. The system was hard-coded against them a millennium before their birth. While they’d played the game well, it wasn’t their game and they didn’t know how not to be cheated at every turn. After all, how could they? Government education made them and the game.

No-one ever said that, but they needn’t either.

Governments and corporations did the same thing. One merely did it better. Nothing about governments was ever created with “customer service” in mind. Nothing could match the corps’ “quality” hand sticking it to you. It wasn’t possible. Government wasn’t formed with quality in mind. It was patch-worked into a scrap-hull to keep the whole ship of humanity from sinking.

Governments had been built to function. Nothing more. At that, only inside the parameters of a specific set of tasks. Usually, ones revolving around maintaining order and occasionally defense or public safety.

It was all very theoretical in nature… until it wasn’t.

That “wasn’t” ended up hellish. A constant battle for ground against bureaucratic bullshit red-tape that as much strangle one as made one want to strangle themselves. The cause was that very say scrap-work. Its constant scattering of debris into ancient gears formed of things like Aristotle’s Constitution and popular assembly. Things ancient even before modern government.

Intent aside, governments were ramshackle systems thrown together from need and desperation. Often, in times of unconscionable chaos. They were astronomically-distant from the well-planned, well-executed, multi-tiered and multi-leveled corporate platform.

It was the difference between a home and a skyscraper; both housed humans but one went beyond the simple ideas of shelter to incorporate the reality of human society. Both had their place.

But in an age where even government complexity, was far below the simplicity of one’s own alarm clock, it was a wonder they held on at all. People were surrounded by state-of-the-art, egghead-designed greatness, but were letting ancient peoples unaware of toilets dictate their reality?

Give ‘em a break.

In retrospect, it is more amazing governments existed and held on so long. By the time they fizzled to nothing, they were laboriousbrutes. Their own, monstrous size would’ve killed them were they not gracious enough to die-off themselves.

Their timing sucked though.

The last “official” government organization dissolved a mere 72 hours before Paris was retaken. The explanation was simple, they’d finally run out of money. Governments were presented a choice; close up shop by night-fall or start cutting into everyone’s pay-outs with every moment longer they ran.

Rather than soil what remained of their legacy, the governments closed up shop and paid off their people.

Flooding the streets with their unemployed, hopeless, and disenfranchised world-wide.

In other words, the exact kind of folk gearing up to purge the corps from Parisian and French borders. Without realizing it, the last slight between government and corp caused The Fall. That once-fruitfully perverted relationship, now reduced to an old wound. One each former-employee now felt a right to in some, thirsting way.

The resulting chaos, at any other moment in history, might’ve been tamable. The recovery possible, if painful.

Oops.

Resistance numbers tripled. New-recruits became fueled with hints of righteous fury. The newly-terrified-and-unemployed saw the corps (rightfully) to blame for the dissolution. Their shifting, tumultuous worlds. That this truth went unrecognized to the general public for decades is hindsight-admission to then-present knowledge of the damage being done.

The evidence of it was clear enough in the generation of soldiers eventually forming corp-sec. They hadn’t cared for their country’s sovereignty. Otherwise, they’d never have left. They cared for action. Adrenaline. They’d been trained that way over generations of stewed and stoked violence. Mostly, so they’d compromise into working for a system older than time rather than fight for something better to begin with.

Remember; their game, their rules. Play by ‘em or fuck off.

Once more it was the remnant middle-class do-gooders that had gotten involved. The same generation of kids watching their peers get cut down around the board, in one way or another– figurative or literal, depending on creed, orientation, color, geography or belief. The middle-kids knew they weren’t doing any good at all, were actively hurting themselves and their people.

So, their aim shifted. Though their priority remained the same; Need. Real need, and the offering of aid.

Do-gooding and all they joined the fight. The landscape of concrete parasites now flattened to dust is evidence enough; they joined the fight with fresh motivation and turned the tables. Were it not for the governmental dissolution, corps would’ve won. Or, they’d have had an easier fight for a while; better recover from the sudden landslide that eventually buried them.

If the Paris Incident taught anyone anything, rash action more seriously upset the game’s balance than just letting shit blow over. Then again, were corps not inundated by resistance fighters from the dissolution, it’s possible they’d have rallied. Even allowing Paris its reign while denying further territory might have eventually worked out– the powers that be might have lulled LeMaire’s people into complacency, before launching a sweeping offensive eliminating problem once and for all.

Short of something catastrophic though, their actual plan never would’ve worked.

In that case, the corps would already be something they weren’t, dictators rather than systems. Their reign would have gone from one of subtlety to one of utter flagrance. In that roundabout way, perhaps then, they were always doomed.

Whatever the answer, those middle-class do-gooders actually did what they meant; they changed the world. If only after being forced out into it, their very presence the change it needed when it needed it.

A valid victory nonetheless. And in the spirit of Humanity, that same sort of back-assward, self-fulfilling prophecy that gave everyone exactly what they wanted in the end no matter how absurd.

No matter the case, it made for one helluva story for the record-books.

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Short Story: No Choice in the Matter

His heart pumped fire, a war-charge. His feet thumped damp Earth, beat a near supersonic rhythm jet-fueled by adrenaline. He’d have panted terror if it weren’t for fear that it might slow him down. Instead, he took half breaths, held them. His temples pounded. Brain half-suffocated brain. He didn’t care. Higher-brain functions weren’t important now. So long’s his heart kept his blood moving, his legs would keep working.

He slid down a hill, pivoted, sprang across a ditch. He landed, still running. Blood-hounds barked and howled over grumbling ATVs and whining dirt-bikes. Moonshine and gunpowder pierced the air, inflicted by the clothing of his pursuers. He wasn’t even sure how he’d escaped. It didn’t matter. Nothing but running did.

They’d tied him up days ago, had been starved and tortured him since. Mason wasn’t sure who, but knew they represented the less-enlightened sect of populous in these parts. They were almost fanatically devoted to eradicating those unworthy of their antiquated, myopic lifestyle. Mason knew what his crime was. They’d bludgeoned it into him. “Choosing” to love a man was the highest disrespect to them. Never mind the fact he hadn’t chosen a damned thing.

The assholes would’ve never been part of his thoughts. They weren’t either. Not until they started attacking him, anyway. He knew well enough they were a part of a local order of hicks– most-likely the Smith or Flynn clan. A few others like them inhabited the area, but none were so brazen as to kidnap and torture a man.

Mason and his husband arrive home one day to find a giant swastika scorched into their front yard. A giant, brown and white “FAG” burned beneath it. It was hardly clever. In the end, all it did was anger his neighbors. Even the less, “liberally-minded” cites of the American South would’ve cared so much. Saying that would’ve missed the point that current era was hardly any of the 1900’s. Even the more conservative folk– most elderly– didn’t care. He’d changed more than a couple minds on “his type” himself alone.

The his was even simpler than the why. It was all freedom, openness; most folk judged a man’s worth by the sweat on his brow. The rest didn’t care to know anyhow: It wasn’t their place to broach such uncouth topics. Changing minds became about how the sweat poured from the couple’s brows. If there was anything to either of them, it was hard-work. From the trades of carpentry and auto-maintenance, to their home renovation hobbies, to landscaping “FAG” from their yard with new sod, both men earned their respect.

Yet here he was: sprinting through back-assward woods. The snow-ball’s chance in hell of escape was as likely as his becoming another hate-statistic.

Engines revved. Dogs howled. Powder and booze-smells grew stronger. His heart readied to give out, accept death. His mind readied to watch on-high as his blackened and bruised body crumpled. The spatter of bloody knife-cuts across him were even less a choice than anything. He hadn’t chosen a damned thing. Never. The fucks behind him didn’t care in the least.

But he had to find Ben, had to reach him. He’d been working late, hoping for extra cash for their trip when Mason went missing. The hicks feared him. Ben was twice the size of even the largest captors, but all muscle. He could’ve punched a fist any one of ‘em Terminator-style. He tended toward pacifism though. All the same, had he been there, Mason would’ve never been caught off-guard. Never frozen. Never been jumped from behind and knocked unconscious to be tied up. It wouldn’t have happened. Mason’s state would’ve enraged Ben’s rare but fierce temper.

Mason wouldn’t go back, couldn’t. He wouldn’t lie down. Wouldn’t die. He’d never submit to another torture session. He’d kill himself before those bastards carved anything else into him. “Fag” was the least of it. The first cuts were quick, easy. Eventually, all of them were made with dull blades.

A passing gleam appeared through the trees. It curved away. Distant engines mingled with dogs and shouts. Mason’s heart nearly stopped. The rural highway to town appeared. He scrambled up-hill, more determined than ever. He bobbed and weaved through trees met asphalt. An old Bronco screeched to a stop, nearly hit him before the blue and red lights appeared. The deputy was out, gun in-hand before he realized the man’s sordid state.

The ATVs rumbled nearer. The dogs howled over Mason’s hysterical pleas. The cop ordered him into his truck, peeled out as the first pursuers appeared at the tree-line. He raised his rifle to fire, saw the lights, then grit his teeth and lowered his weapon. The Bronco raced to town and the hospital. The officer took Mason’s statement as he was tended to by a nurse. Ben appeared, face pale but with fiery eyes held at-bay by concern.

Ben hugged Mason carefully, parted only when the nurse insisted she finish stitching and bandaging him. The officer left a guard on the hospital room over night. He returned the next morning alerted the couple that all of the men Mason had reported were being arrested.

Justice was swift, as near to complete as it could be. Mason’s testimony was given via teleconference from his hospital bed. His injuries were too severe to allow him to leave. Nonetheless, his story went public. Debates of hate-speech, freedom, and crime were sparked locally and nationally. Most sided in the couple’s favor.

Mason, on the other hand, was merely glad to be alive. He was wheeled into his house, at Ben’s insistence, to find a giant banner welcoming him home. Beneath it, stood all of the couple’s friends and neighbors. If nothing else, Mason was who he was, and most were grateful for that. No matter what others felt for a moment Mason knew, if given a choice, he’d have chosen to be himself– if only to selfishly retain the love that welcomed him home.

Bonus Poem Double Feature: Part 2- Futility

Vigilante,
Closing in on a candlelight vigil,
spies the masked villain,
waiting in the wings for his next victim,
and so strikes with the power of voice,
until fear eviscerates the villain’s volition.

Meanwhile,
across a scarred city in moonlight,
is a deranged would-be protector-man,
whose only intention is that of the crime of murder.
After, he’ll hide behind a shield of metal,
that prompts sounds of mangled meat.

Futility,
is seen through the looking glass of fear,
where it is easy to mistake happenstance for fate,
but reality is Ralph, and harsh and frank,
and so long as we don’t allow ourselves to, we’ll never forget,
that there is no such thing, and thus our own futures formulate.

Speaking,
will forever be the path of sustenance,
as long as our reality is that of society.
We may remain in the din but reign in the silence,
for our hearts beat truest when in solace,
may they forever then, find written words for serene survival.

Bonus Poem Double Feature: Part 1- We’ll Rise as One

Sit upon a throne,
and taste the power.
Never atone,
be forced to cower.

Trampled underfoot,
we rise as one.
Whether in silence,
or loud as a gun.

Tell your lies,
and pull your strings,
for we despise,
unnatural things.

But sooner or later,
we’ll rise as one,
see through your smoke-screen
and your illusion.

Backed by hate,
and paper greed,
you deflate,
when faced with need

This world is ours.
We and it are one.
You will fade,
like the setting sun.

Opiate the masses,
with your vile succor,
separate the classes,
and rejoice with liquor.

But never forget,
we’ll rise as one,
against your kind’s regime,
forever, until we’ve won.

Bonus Short Story: To Strengthen One Another

Exhaustion. That was what he felt as he sat, hunched over on a concrete barrier. His orange vest and hard-hat were the beacons of his status as a rescuer– one of a few-hundred. Like them, he’d worked for near-on thirty-hours to dig corpses and even fewer survivors from the rubble. What used to be a downtown office block was now a post-war zone. The dust had settled, but only for those outside the quarantine zone lined by emergency vehicles for half-a-mile in every direction.

Every few minutes the dogs and their handlers would scurry past. The hounds nosed the ground while their handlers’ eyes were locked on their ears, tails, and muzzles. Like the rest, they waited for any sign that would prompt them to dig. They would hand off the barking dogs, scope through the debri for what weakened scents of the living or dead had been caught.

Across the one-time plaza, a woman in a police uniform with a radio to her mouth took orders to sweep and clear every few minutes. No-one was sure why; the damage had been done, and it wasn’t likely whomever had done this would return. They wouldn’t need to. All they had to do was flip on the TV to see the live vids that revealed the loss of an entire city block, the lives of most workers therein. The woman wasn’t even sure why she was there, but she knew she couldn’t leave. At that, she couldn’t have been dragged away either.

Most at the scene were like her; lost, confused, tormented by a moral quandary of whether their exhaustion was more important than the suffering of others under the rubble. No-one escaped the buildings before the bombs, but just as well, few people had been found. Most were dead. And now the rescue teams were beyond exhausted.

A great rumble kicked up from one of the blockaded roads, and someone shouted something about a convoy. A firetruck’s engine revved to part from the center of a barricade, then a convoy from the Army Corps of Engineers rolled in. It led the way for a series of construction and demolition vehicles. Flat-bed eighteen-wheelers arrived with curious looking, mechanical vehicles atop them. It wasn’t long before their purpose was revealed.

The Engineers piled out, ready to aid the rescue teams with blue-prints, enlivened vigor, and coffee by the barrel-full. The construction and demo-trucks fanned out around the inner-perimeter of the disaster, immediately began work. Bulldozers and back-hoes, front-loaders and excavators, and a quarter-mile’s worth of dump trucks worked with the dogs and handlers.

Together, they combed small areas with resonance scans that gave three-dimensional views of the rubble and Earth beneath it before beginning removal as gingerly as possible. Wrecking-ball cranes were hitched to the largest chunks of debris and lifted for the dumps.

A few more bodies were revealed, all but one dead. The woman was barely breathing, obvious even through her dust-caked, high-quality blouse. Her abdomen had the tell-tale bruises of internal bleeding.

Everyone present had seen her on television at some point– most during the business-segments of news-vids. She was an unliked, well-known contrarian that argued business matters for payment against most definitions of ethics. Even so, she was loaded onto a stretcher as carefully as anyone else, rushed across the site to a triage, and worked on as anyone in need. If it were any normal day, perhaps those present would’ve had words against the woman’s nature.

But this was not a normal day. It couldn’t have been. It is said that sin has no place in disaster; so benign seemed even her greatest sins that no-one even hesitated to help her.

More work, hours passed. More bodies, more dead, fewer survivors. Then came the Mechs;

those peculiar-looking vehicles on the trucks– like giant, hydraulic legs with clawed arms and blocky, snake-like heads atop metal shoulders. They were super-strong, mechanical exoskeletons built of high-strength steels and powerful hydraulic limbs. They could lift, carry, even hurl tons as easily and competently as a human with a tennis ball.

Each Mech was an armored cock-pit, accessible from the back, that an operator stepped into. The operators thrust themselves into computerized braces along the feet, legs, arms, hands, head and torso to allow for full-range of mobility. When the back came down, sealed the operator in, the Mech’s systems engaged to work with the strength of a full platoon of men. In time, the Mechs even gave most rescue workers time to sleep or recollect themselves.

When those workers sat for water or food, they fell asleep without pause, as dead to the world as its reaches beyond the quarantine zone had become to them. The Mech operators were praised for their appearance and timeliness as they quickly sifted through what remained of the buildings, filled the convoys of dump-trucks twice over, and uncovered more than a few people both living and dead.

It was said, after the fact, that over a million collective man-hours had been spent in the search and clean up of those few days. Most there agreed, if only due to the extreme fatigue they all eventually succumbed to. Were it not for the Mechs and their operators, some men and women might have literally dropped mid-dig. Though all there feared it, so too did they know that no man nor woman would stay down long. Each of the rescuers– from the dogs to the EMTs– were ready to commit themselves so fully as to rise in defiance of any would-be collapse.

There is much that can be said of the human spirit, but those few days its existence wasn’t debatable. Not in the sense that it had been before. Whether metaphorical, metaphysical, or just plain curious, that collective spirit became more real, corporeal. It became a wall of bagged sand against a tidal wave of grief and tragedy that, like Pandora’s Box, rose as a lid that closed to keep the worst at bay. Such is the nature of the Human spirit, and in it, the true purpose for our dominance of this planet; to live, love, and strengthen one another.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Judging Independence

Listen closely,
to the mortars’ song.
They cry of freedom,
by banging a gong,
but shriek in terror,
at a girl’s thong.

What great masses,
of fools and hypocrites,
would deny man or woman,
their in-born spirits?
Perhaps the same ones,
that themselves have no merits.

Yet those same masses,
seem to rule the world,
with chaos and madness,
and delusions hurled.
If only we, the minority,
could be quite so unfurled.

Judge not,
lest ye be judged,
but there is no jury,
and they’ve bought the judge,
forever our innocence,
has been smudged.

A corruption of spirit
of truth and unity,
and thus I must say,
without impunity,
that our independence,
caused a wisdom-immunity.

Two centuries have come,
and then some,
all but a fraction,
spent waging war.
It’s hard not to feel,
just a little bit sore.

If independence this be,
I just have to ask;
is it me?
Or have we failed the task?

Bonus Short Story: Lake Morton

The town of Morton, Indiana wasn’t backwoods hickville, but it wasn’t a paradise either. It didn’t have the population of places like Chicago or Indianapolis, or even their high-earning businesses or high-priced residences. It did however, have lake Morton; a four-and-a-half mile wide, twelve mile long, natural lake with all manner of beach houses and cottages along it. These weren’t the typical million-dollar beach-homes, but rather modest, meager places of refuge from the greater part of the world.

In winter, Lake Morton would freeze over deep enough to attract the ice fisherman, skaters, and cold-lovers alike. Conversely, summer brought the regular fisherman, boating enthusiasts, and more than a few getaway seekers that only wished to hide from the work-a-day world they came from.

Nowhere in the town profited more from this duality of attraction than downtown Morton. In the decades since post-World War II growth saw America’s great boons of all types, Morton had grown from a literal one-horse town to a full-functioning modern city with all the usual amenities. Where once there had been nothing more than plains, a few forests, and Lake Morton, now there were supermarkets, suburbs, and even a strip-mall or two. None of those things would’ve been possible if not for that duality; the lake brought the people, the people brought their money, and others followed.

The people of Morton were no different than the town itself, most of modest means that had somehow found a living working the pair of farms, the handful of businesses, or lake-related jobs seasonally and year-round. Some people became city officials, police or firefighters, or took jobs in the comparably small medical field, but it was important to their heritage that each of them care for the lake that had brought them so much fortune.

Enter a company– a small corporation, in fact– that wished to procure a plot of land on the outskirts of town. The CEO, a man in his mid-thirties, pressed and dressed, personally met with the municipal government officials to ensure the transition went smoothly. He wasn’t much different than any of the other types that found refuge on Lake Morton’s beaches. Sure, he had a sort of smart way about him that nearly exuded condescension, but so did most like him. None of them though, he included, ever made those they spoke to feel outwardly offended. The people in Morton just took them as “that kind” of folk.

So of course when the CEO offered them massive sums for the small plot of land, overvalued as a charitable donation, they took it– especially with the promise of more and more jobs to come. No-one was quite sure what the company did, but they knew it promised more stimulation and stability to the local economy. The paper-work was signed, ground was broken, and the small, five-story corporate office was built in less than a month.

Truthfully, it was a kind of an eye-sore on the well-known horizon of low shop-fronts and trees, with only their one, tall hospital to rise above them. Even so, the people couldn’t help but welcome the corporation with open arms. The CEO had promised wealth, more neighbors, and with them, the expansion of Morton’s downtown district and economy. It was a sort of kindness the CEO had granted them, and if Morton’s people were anything, it was grateful for their “blessings.”

The first whispers of something wrong came from fringe-folk learning about the company’s work. It was called Dump-Corp, a waste-management purveyor rented out by large cities when their own, governmental waste-management couldn’t handle their trash-loads. The regular people thought the fringe-folk were out of their minds to be suspicious. Everyone needed to rid themselves of trash, and it wasn’t difficult to understand the need for a company to help.

And it wasn’t as if they were dumping garbage in Morton. The town was, and always had been, clean and well cared for. It was their civic duty, civic-pride even, to keep Morton the getaway-refuge it had always been. Unfortunately, all the goodwill in the world couldn’t change the trucks that started appearing on the highways just outside town. It wasn’t long before the fringe-folk gave the rest a big “told ‘ya so.”

Still, the trucks didn’t mean anything, and in fact the CEO made a very public presentation to keep the people calm, tell them everything was alright, and that those trucks were just driving a caravan of trash to a land-fill a few towns over. That seemed to work for most people, but the fringe-folk weren’t satisfied. They kept their eyes, ears, noses too, sharp for danger or treachery.

The first signs– or rather, scents– of something seriously wrong came the summer after Dump-Corp’s office opened. There was an unusual influx of people that summer, drawn by the advertising campaign the city could now afford. All the same, that influx only helped to spread later rumors.

It was with a swift wind that kicked up from the South-East that people finally began to see the error of their ways. The scent of trash was so foul it burned their nostrils, made more than a few people retch from bile spurred from their guts.

It was quickly discovered the “land-fill” a few towns over was actually only a few miles away– where county and city-lines converged in a kind of dead zone for several towns. Morton was one of them. That time of the summer, those southern winds always seemed to kick up and through that dead-zone.

But who could’ve known that? Even that CEO couldn’t have. No-one could have anticipated that a freak occurrence of nature that most took for granted would shift the winds at precisely the wrong time– and in precisely the worst direction– to rocket the stench of countless people’s refuse over the natural lake and the town it served.

The next few events happened almost so fast there was no time between to realize it. Someone had left a warning on a travel-review website for Morton about the stench. Then others added their comments and warnings. People pulled their reservations left and right, and in less than a week, Morton’s summer was ruined. Without their main source of income the people panicked– both residents and government officials.

Once more the CEO came to the rescue though, only everyone was so busy being scared they didn’t realize the grand plan he had in the works. When someone on the city-council signed a new agreement with the company, the others followed without thinking or reading it. Half weren’t even sure what had been promised to them, the other half didn’t care to know, they only cared to fix the town. With a final, billowy stench, Lake Morton was simultaneously drained and filled with trash.

Most headed for the hills, took the losses on their once well-valued homes just to escape the stench. The rest shook their heads and plugged their noses and tried to trudge on through life despite the muck. Together, they knew the truth; that the lake had always provided for them. Even now, it is adulterated form, it does just that.

In less than a year, the people of Morton learned not only the value of kindness, but also prudence. They lost their way in an odorous panic that escaped no-one, and when they weren’t sure what to do, they closed their eyes and made a leap of faith– right into a corporate mound of trash.