Short Story: A Lost Cause?

The Paris Incident… what more can be said that hasn’t been already? Everyone knows how it started, everyone knows why it went to shit, and everyone knows how the Americans– the biggest bulls of them all– were silently and willingly castrated. Jesus Christ, we were so stupid.

To understand why Lemaire’s death had such little effect on us, you have to understand where we’d come from. Then, once knowing that, you’d have to understand why we did what we did.

When Lemaire died, and Paris went up in flames, we watched with the rest of the world, petrified just like them. The difference was, we could mount no revolution of our own. Funny thing about being the one with the biggest stick– when its turned on you, you’re pretty well fucked. Blue-collar, white collar; didn’t matter your shirt-color, if you’d found a place to bitch about things, you were jailed before the broader ‘net heard your complaints.

But like I said, you have to understand where we came from. It started decades ago with the first, foreign terrorist attack this country had seen. It wasn’t just a tragic occurrence for us. Other places in the world were used to that sort of thing. Not us. Between the IRA, the middle eastern sects, and the average, everyday nut-jobs Europe was rife with those attacks. Paris, London, Berlin, hell even Belgium and Sweden had felt their fair share of the dirt being kicked up by those fucking jihadists to the south.

Us though? We weren’t like them. We had security, sanctity, sovereignty, and in them, peace of mind.

So when that first attack hit, it was more than just a pin-prick in our overblown ego, it was a god damn gaping hole in the balloon. Unfortunately, that balloon was also our heads and what we did after, even if for the best of reasons, made sure of it. When the time finally came for us to face our demons, we realized we’d left ourselves powerless.

For decades we’d heard from ultra-leftists about the “erosion of freedoms,” while the right pitched its agenda as the “protection of rights.” It was all just rhetoric meant to hide what people were really afraid to say; we were becoming slaves– either to our government, or the corps that eventually took over. We were all chained to 9-to-5s, rising taxes, and crippling debt. Not even the best and brightest of us could escape after college tuition went through the roof. For the first time in history, we started seeing cities– literal cities– go belly up from outrageous debt and unyielding corruption.

So we did what any first world nation would, printed more money and gave it out by the bucketfuls to people whom promised to protect our economy. Ha, yeah, bullshit. What most did was take the money and run. Turns out ol’ Steve Miller was right after all, but our Billy-Joe and Bobby-Sue were Wall Street and the Financial industry. The difference? They didn’t so much shoot a man after robbing his castle as knock us down and trample our faces in mud as they ran roughshod over our country and economy.

So what we eventually had was a whole country of people terrified from a blow to their ego, scraping to get by after a near-totally collapsed economy. Understanding that makes it easier to understand what came next, and led us to our… current, predicament.

It became obvious about a decade after the first attack– the only attack, really– that our freedoms were eroding. Even as the politicians called for increased security, safety, and freedom, they forced laws past that tightened their grip around our throats and our own belts. They bludgeoned rights and freedoms with repeated attempts to pass harsher and more ambiguous laws, gave total power to acronym and police agencies. The shit storm that hit the fan when we later found out– shockingly– that power was used for all the most malicious purposes, was too little too late.

Whod’ve thought, right?

All kidding aside, what we had was a country of pissed off, desperate people too poor, hungry, and terrified to lift themselves up. More importantly, they clutched for anything and everything that even remotely resembled security– you know, that bygone illusory thing we’d always thought we’d had. So when the corps came in to downsize the police force, clean-up the borders, and take-over the already-corrupt justice system, who’d have thought it could get any worse?

No-one. Why? Because we’d never seen such atrocities committed by our own people, let alone against our own people. We were simply naive; a country too young and juvenile in mind to realize we should be careful of the silver spoon fed to us, lest it contain arsenic and cyanide. Instead, we swallowed it whole, gorged ourselves on lies, empty promises, and rhetoric and propaganda that would have shamed the Nazis. All of that, in the hopes that everything would “get better soon.”

The eternal why is simple really, we are naïve, both as a country and as a culture. The English empire has spanned millennia. Even most, legal orders of European countries were hundreds of years older before they fell. Comparatively, we were short-lived. It made us that much easier to conquer. Hearts and minds were a hell of a lot more effective than guns and bombs, and most of corp execs knew that. We didn’t. So they promised everything our hearts desired, and the return of peace of mind through it, and we didn’t hesitate.

In a matter of months, the US police forces were eliminated by various sects of corporate security. The Military went with them. Soldiers were given a choice to stay on with one of various corporations or leave without a second consideration. The Navy was outright eliminated, air superiority a given from the Warhound-Raptors patrolling the skies and coasts in flocks. More to the point, we relinquished any hopes of self-defense in a bid to keep foreign execs happy.

The State and Federal Governments stuck around a little while longer than most civil services to “ease the transition.” More bullshit. What they did was pass a whole slew of laws all that pretty much eliminated the bill of rights and nullified the constitution. Why? They were all bought and paid for. Every last one of them held positions in corps, received weekly checks from their payroll. We learned that the hard way when the last of the governments dissolved– and we clapped and hooted and hollared about it.

And then there was silence.

Fucking deafening silence.

Media outlets went off the air, the ‘net went down, and all but a few vehicles were banned from the streets and skies. Conventional vehicles were outlawed to fatten the corps’ bottom lines through public transport and electric vehicles. The only thing we really owned anymore was our debt– hell from what I hear, even our sperm and eggs aren’t really ours anymore. It belongs to the corps now. Everything. All of it’s just waiting for some reason to be cut off and sold off to lower our life-debts.

I can’t even really be angry. Not really. I’m just disappointed. Our country had so much potential, such an unbelievable beauty and spirit. It seemed nothing could crush it except us. Then we did. Our streets turned into mostly dilapidated, abandoned memories outside inner-cities. Homes are gone too, everyone stuck in corp-owned buildings, prisons, or risking the elements hiding on the cities’ outskirts. None of those is a viable option to me, not really, but I take what I can get.

So, just like yesterday, I’ll slip into my boots, strap on my armor, grab my rifle and go to work. Maybe today someone will stand against us. Maybe I’ll be forced to gun them down. Then again, maybe not. Maybe we’ll be faced with another person standing beside them. Then another, and another until the whole damned country’s ready to die to take back what’s been stolen.

If not, I’ll just go lick the hand that feeds me again. I’d rather bite it, but I’m not gonna’ let it beat me into submission like the other inmates and homeless unless I’ve got a damned good reason. I may have a gun, but really, I’m just another wage-slave with armor in place of a suit.

I don’t know if it matters, or if it really could– you know, to be one who stands up. All I know’s the older I get, the more I start to wonder; are we really a lost cause?

Bonus Short Story: Just Another Day

The horizon was a mix of neon and white with the occasional yellow of an old incandescent or fluorescent bulb in the quilt-work of high-rises. Their exteriors were either gleaming, freshly cleaned cement and steel, or dilapidated brick-work, soot-covered from decades of smog. From a distant enough overhead view, sections of the city-streets would be plastered with headlights from vehicles whose owners had yet to make the switch to flying craft. Only the police craft would stick out, their red and blue flashing in groups or singles.

At one corner drugstore with them, was Detective Arnold Rhein. It wasn’t a stretch to call Rhein a veteran of the force. Indeed, he was well-known by most in the precinct. Even for a brief while, by the Press, when he uncovered a Mayoral-aide’s murder that implicated the Mayor in a scandalous conspiracy.

Those days were long gone now. Rhein was near the end of his rope. He’d prematurely grayed decades ago, before cars flew. Now steel-haired, a permanent, salt and pepper tinted his five o’clock shadow. He’d often scratch it to think, infect the air with sand-paper sounds of nails on scruff.

Presently, sand-paper sounded in Armen’s Corner Drugstore. Rhein squatted at the feet of a fresh stiff. The body wasn’t even cold yet. Obvious signs of a struggle adorned the counter in over turned beef-jerky stacks, scattered candy-bars and other miscellanea.

Armed robbery gone awry. The stiff’s gut-wound said as much. It wasn’t precise or intentional. The bruise formed along the bridge of the stiff’s nose, through its crook and to his forehead, said he’d been headbutted and the gun went off. A trickle of blood that he’d made no attempt to wipe away said he was in shock or dead too soon after for it to gain purchase in his mind.

Rhein straightened to survey the scene better. Armed robbery gone wrong. That was it. Simple. Nothing else stuck out. A few, errant bills had been left behind in the drawer. Small bills, not worth risking the time once the sirens started blaring.

The upstairs neighbor had called the police, come down to check on the clerk and found him dead. The old woman with curlers in her hair was wrapped in a bathrobe assaulting to even the most deadened senses. She was a neon-teal beacon with a powdered-white face from hastily glomed on make-up. The curlers created a laurel around her head of clashing, hot pink.

Rhein looked away. He’d been on the job a lot of years, enough to discern two things; this would end up as another unsolved murder, and that woman had no sense of taste. He strolled back across the drugstore, slipped out for a uniform in charge of the scene. He’d already yielded to Rhein’s experience, acting as middle man to keep the blues orderly while the Detective did his thing.

“Detective,” the uniform said with a nod.

“Officer,” Rhein began. “Call the coroner. There’s nothing here. Typical smash and grab gone wrong. The only way we’d’ve caught the guy is if we’d seen him running out with the cash.”

The officer seemed to understand. He flipped his little memo book closed. Rhein stepped around him and through a line of cruisers to his unmarked, four-wheel car. He’d never cared much for the fliers. They handled like refrigerators, big and bulky with no grace, and undeserving of the power of flight. He preferred the old gas-guzzling, air-polluters he’d known his whole life.

But that was the nature of things now. The old got older until they ended up stiffs, took their ways with ’em to make way for young and new.
He drove on through the city: the future was progress that had no place for him. Traffic was horrendous, but better than before fliers. Everything was different– yet somehow, the same. He wasn’t sure when the change had started, but instinct and memory said somewhere between wives two and three. Now Carol, wife four, was looking to get the long end of the stick. The others hadn’t been so fortunate. Rhein had been “married to the job” before Carol, a cop in his prime, then a detective with something to prove. The relationships could’ve never hoped to survive.

Carol had a detective nearing retirement though. Rhein wasn’t even willing to take the extra effort anymore of double-checking things. He made a call, and it was over. Nose to the ground was for greenies that hadn’t learned the cyclical nature of the city and crime. They were still too young to have the skills that allowed him a lone glance to make a call. Only time and experience could allow for that. Rhein had both, wasn’t sure he wanted either anymore.

To any other Detective, especially a greenie, he’d have seemed a burn out. The truth was paradoxically nearer and further than most knew. Rhein wasn’t a burn-out in the usual sense, he was merely worn down. His mind had gone from the razor-sharpness of a freshly honed blade to the dull, age-worn metal of one eons older. Forty years of work had worn it down.

His unmarked car rolled up to his tenement on the city’s outer-edge. He put it in park and killed the engine. For a moment, he sat there staring, watching cars and fliers pass on the road and in the sky.

The world had changed, and not for the better. His world, the one he’d come from anyway, was smaller, more tightly-knit. People had worked for one another, and with one another, all to make life better. Personal gain had been the side note then, societal gain the main passage. Now everyone was out for themselves. The world was too big. Cities had tripled, quadrupled in size to accommodate the ever-growing global census. With them rose violent crime rates until one could no longer hope to make a difference, no matter how hard they tried. At least, if they could, it took a technique Rhein didn’t know or could never learn.

The old guard had to inexorably resign, move on, fade into history to become a forgotten relic. Why not start here, with himself? He saw no a reason not to.

A few moments later, he exited the elevator to the squalor of his tenement’s hallway, pushed his way into the meager apartment he’d afforded on a cop’s salary. He found Carol in bed, covers up to her chin. He went about quietly undressing, slipped into bed.

She stirred, “How was work?”

He pulled her in to his bare chest, stared emptily at the ceiling, “Just another day.”

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Tech Feelers

Ones and Zeroes
I play the Heroes.
Fantastical realms,
with steel and magical helms.

Engage the light.
Speeds are a fright.
When quantum theory,
becomes computer literary.

With a click and a whir,
holo-screen’s a-blur.
and keys that click and clack,
have become mere thoughts that stack.

Petabytes of information,
become moments of frustration,
as knowledge transforms
and ascends in cyber-storms.

When wi-fi is all around us,
and web 2.0 evolves in a fuss,
the bytes and the bits,
still will not quit.

So don’t fear the future,
or technology,
and don’t try to fight it,
just wait and see–
For reality is realer
when lived with tech feelers

Short Story: Space Rock

An orange dart streaked across the sky, brighter than even the moon. It made fireflies of the stars, lit up the treetops as it curved toward Earth. Somewhere in the Northern area of Indiana, it struck the ground with all the force of its cosmic ejection. In a shower of dirt and demolished foliage, it came to a rest in a nondescript forest with the world largely unaware of its presence.

Two figures emerged from the trees to the glow of red-hot rock in a small crater. The first figure was taller than the second, but neither beyond the height of childhood. Eric Williams and his younger sister Linney crept nearer, felt the meteorite’s heat even from the distance. They were still clad in airy, thin pajamas, both intermittently glancing back to ensure their distant, tiny tent remained where they’d marked it in their minds.

They ambled, step-by-step, toward the meteorite, until its heat was too intense to go any nearer. Linney made to step forward again, but Eric’s hand was firm on her wrist. Instead, she stood transfixed, staring.

There wasn’t anything inherently interesting about the meteorite, save its pulsing glow. The longer Eric stared, the more shapes swirled in the glow; tiny little ovals or cylinders squirming and writhing, as equally agitated by the heat as fueled by it.

It was just his imagination, he knew, but it disturbed him. He tugged at Linney’s arm, “C’mon. We’ll come back in the morning.”

Linney was enthralled. She didn’t hear him. He tugged harder, began walking backward, pulling. Her eyes finally swiveled with her body to follow him. Every few steps he’d have to tug her again as she lagged, neck craned over a shoulder to watch the glow fade. They returned to their tent, nestled themselves into their sleeping bags.

Eric laid awake, thinking on the strange shapes he’d seen. He feared sleep; Linney might fake it, sneak out and back to the crater. It wouldn’t have been the first time. These camp-outs were common, and given the family’s massive property, Eric though it a shame to waste the opportunity. Linney though, liked to think that eight years old meant smarter and stronger than anything in the world. She was smarter than Eric, he knew for sure, but she couldn’t be allowed to think that. He forced himself to stay awake until his eyes fluttered, and he succumbed to sleep beside her.

In dreams he found himself standing in a fluid that glowed red-hot like the meteorite. All around him thrummed and thronged creatures he couldn’t distinguish. He felt their presence beside him. They writhed and squirmed, hummed and rippled, as the glow nearly blinded him.

He opened his eyes to sunlight peeking in through an overhead, mesh-window. It splayed over his face, as blinding as the glow in his dream. He scooted backward to lean upright, rubbed sleep from his eyes. He yawned a deep “good morning” to Linney.

There was no reply.

His head snapped toward her empty sleeping bag. He was suddenly up, sprinting. He screamed Linney’s name between heavy, terrified pants. It was futile. If Linney didn’t want to be found she wouldn’t be. Even if she did, she might still remain quiet in fear of incurring his wrath, or worse, Mom and Dad’s.

Eric bee-lined for the crater, calling to her. The nearer it came, the further his voice carried its fitful projections. He was hyperventilating when he stumbled up beside the crater, came to a skidding halt on his hands and knees. Across the now cooled, jagged form, Linney lay unconscious.

Eric scrambled over, knelt to shake her. She merely bucked and jostled, limp against his grip.

He screamed at the meteorite, “This all your fault!”

Tears streamed down his face, body wracked by terrified sobs. He knew there was something he was supposed to do, some type of thing doctors did, but he wasn’t sure what.

He reacted in the only way he could. With a massive heave of a twelve-year old strength, he lifted his little sister and sprinted for the house. Linney was dead-weight. Foliage crunched and swished under his agonizing, break-neck speed.

He burst through the kitchen’s back-door to find Mom and Dad eating breakfast, reading their respective newspapers. He shook and stammered, his parents dumbfounded. They were suddenly up, rushing Linney to the living room couch. Mom took out a few medical instruments. Explanations and pleas fell from Eric in a terrified, jumbled din that his parents barely heard. Mom and Dad seemed to agree Linney would be alright just as Eric exhausted his other emotions and collapsed in a blubbering heap.

It was around noon that Linney finally awoke. The family had been in various states of dismay around the living room. Dad paced and muttered a lot. Mom cried in silence, stroked Linney’s hair. Eric just stared, his mind paradoxically both empty and overflowing.

She awoke with a sore “umph,” and shook away sleep like a puppy. Questions raged atop silent mutterings of relief. Someone finally addressed her directly with, “What did you think you were doing, young lady?”

For a moment, she stared off, and then, with an almost whimsy replied, “I was dreaming.” It was obvious even to her young mind this wasn’t sufficient. “I… went to see the space-rock. It wasn’t hot, so I touched it. And then I… started dreaming.”

The family mocked disbelief, but were too relieved to interrupt.

She paused for a long time, then finally explained, “I was dreaming. But it wasn’t a normal dream. It wasn’t one of my dreams. It was someone else’s. Like a boring documentary about people and Earth, but not one I’ve ever seen on TV. It was… different. The people didn’t look like people, and the cars flew in the skies, instead of riding on roads.”

Her face made confused shapes. Mom and Dad gave one another a deranged look. Eric merely stared, breathless, hanging on her every word. She couldn’t be lying. He knew that much. Linney didn’t have a very good imagination. She’d always been more “grounded in reality” as Mom put it. That’s why she always wandered off, because curiosity “got the best of her senses.”

Tears began to well in Linney’s eyes with a sorrow beyond her meager years, “And then… a-and then there were space-ships. Screaming. Fires. It was terrible. So terrible.” She choked on her next thoughts, piercing the family’s hearts with it. “And there was someone saying something over a lot of beeps and screams and fires and the smell of dead things. Millions of voices and different languages. I couldn’t understand them. But then I heard ours.”

She choked into silence, weeping and sniffling. Eric had to know. “What did they say, Linney?”

She screwed up her face to reply to her brother, inflecting something he’d only seen a few times– a sort of sibling code that said to take her deathly serious, “I-it s-said… they’re coming.”