Short Story: Eternal Optimists

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Paris Incident by now. Who hasn’t? It was the sole trigger to the single greatest atrocity in modern history– and I speak as a German whom hasn’t forgotten her history. The Corps may have purged the bombings from the light ‘net and the media archives, but where I’m from, we still live with it. Everyday.

I wake up to a half-leveled horizon outside my window. There’s always frost there when the sun comes up. It doesn’t help that we have no heat in the building. Unless you count barrels of fire as heating. I don’t. After I eat whatever I’ve scrounged up or gathered from the air-drops by neighboring rebels or surviving humanitarian organizations, I head downstairs to the book store I live above.

Funny how some things never quite go out of style. For decades there were people who said that print media was dead. E-readers and web-books were supposed to make the written word obsolete. I can only laugh at the thought– one of few that elicits such emotion nowadays. Those people never realized you couldn’t use e-readers without electricity, or god forbid, the internet.

I miss the light ‘net. All we get around here’s the dark-net, and that’s used for encrypted communications between rebel cells. We simply can’t risk linking the light-net to any of the people here. The few that even have access are lucky. Most of them rigged scavenged-solar cells to old, power-hungry laptops provided by various cells around the continent. Most are grateful, but it makes me feel like we’re a charity case.

Imagine that, all of Berlin, once a powerful seat of progress in a technologically-minded country like Germany, groveling for scraps and hand-outs. There are probably only a few thousand of us left now. The corp-bombings saw to that. When Lemaire fell, and Paris burst into flames, London and Berlin were next in line. There were other places too, but most were small– too small to notice when they were wiped out completely.

But as a haven of technology and free-thought, instilled since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had the greatest concentration of Augs– that is to say Cybernetic or bionically augmented humans. Whoever wasn’t directly an Aug, was an “Aug-sympathizer.” Everyone knew that, including the corps. So when the proverbial sheisse hit the fan, everyone was splattered with it. When I say that, what I mean is; after two weeks of battling on the streets in major cities around the globe, the offended players banded together to bomb the rest of us back to the stone age. Literally.

Berlin got the worst of it. If there’s any solace to be take from our fate, it’s that we managed to wound the corps’ bottom lines enough to push them out of Germany altogether. We’d taken over most of their buildings, destroyed the rest, cut down those whom sided against us in the fighting. Most were slayed by the waves of bodies that filed through the burning streets.

We Germans have a way of being ruthless to a point of barbarism at times– not from a lack of humanity, quite the opposite in fact. We care so deeply and passionately about things that our natural ambitiousness makes us too strong-headed and hardhearted at the worst of times. Maybe if we weren’t so consumed by our ambitions then, we’d have stopped to look around at what was happening, or sensed what was about to.

Maybe if we weren’t so enamored with listening to our hearts we’d have heard the Raptor-cries. Maybe even, if we hadn’t been so loving of our augged brothers and sisters– whether literal or figurative– we’d have been righteously hardhearted enough to save ourselves.

But we weren’t. We were eternally the optimists. The same people whom, even generations later, were socially guilt-ridden for Hitler’s actions and determined to make up for it. Each of us felt the shame of World War II, promised not to repeat the mistakes that led to it. Somehow, we still let the corps take charge, and until they began their Nazi-esque campaign of extermination against the Augs, we supported them.

That was the issue though. It always has been for us. We let the evil into our hearts with open arms, ever-believing in the good of Humanity. Instead, we’re soon shown to have been manipulated, our love used against us and those that would otherwise truly deserve it.

The first bombs that fell over Europe targeted three, initial cities; Paris, where it all began; London, where the revolution looked to spread most violently, and Berlin, where the Augs that wouldn’t or couldn’t fight were likely to find sanctuary.

Raptors screamed over Europe with their hard-angled noses spitting chain-gun fire and their rounded bellies splitting to unleash hell. In minutes, any hope for a life in Berlin– for Aug or otherwise– was exterminated, burned to dust in the fires of evil. Before the sun rose the next morning, tens of thousands were dead or dying. Those not killed or critically wounded– and even then some– were distraught, chaotically confused. They tried to save what few they could. Everywhere you went it was like standing in a crowded metro whose noise and movements made you want to cower and weep. Many did. A few couldn’t take it, led themselves out.

I was eighteen when the bombs fell, just into university. I was just old enough to drink, and just young enough to feel the last of my innocence dissected from my heart. It was like I’d been given bypass surgery without anesthetic. The sharpness of grief in my chest was omnipresent in those days, punctuated by the stabbing sounds of rubble as we combed for survivors and dead alike. Most found were the latter.

I remember the worst of it, not because of the grisly scene, but because it was the first time I felt hatred. Hatred is something humans speak of out of anger most times. It is often despair masked by the ego to keep one’s image intact. This was different. This was real, pure hatred; a feeling that filled my mouth with a wetness as though I were goring the throat of a foe with my teeth. From there, it infected my being with a sharpened determination, a strength I have not lost since. It has kept my muscles taught when they should have faltered in fear, steadied my hands when they would have trembled with terror.

I saw a young girl curled in her bed. We’d dug a path to her grave from beneath the collapsed upper-floor of her apartment building. Everything around us was charred black. We were forced to don respirators from the dust and stink of days old, immolated flesh. Then I saw her; curled in her bed as if sleeping peacefully, but where her skin should be was the marred, blackened flesh of a war-crime. She was like one of those Pompeiian victims, forever frozen in her death-pose.

I am a healer, a medic, a surgeon and I feel no shame in admitting I have a strong stomach. I have seen things that could bring the strongest men and women to tears and pained retching. Most of the time, I’m forced to power through them for the sake of the victims– my patients– and I do so. This was so awful I stumbled away in tears and vomited all the grief that I’d held back since the attacks.

Every morning I wake up she occupies my thoughts. Even as I go down through the bookstore, and out into street I think of how she was stolen from this world. She could have been my daughter had I not been more careful. At that, she could have been me if the bombs had been dropped only a few years further beyond than that.

So I walk along the street, largely clear of its debris, and watch the city around me with her in mind. It still has the look of the blitzkrieg turning in on itself. Full, corporate towers are replaced by mounds of rubble, steel and concrete land-fills. Nature has done its best to reclaim the rest while we keep it enough at bay to carry on in our missions.

To that end, my part is simple; keep people alive. I do it for her. Most that come to my clinic down the street are badly injured, either from work-accidents, refugee status, or as acting rebels for the cause. Germany is not without its remaining corporate outposts, but even they steer clear of Berlin. I guess it’s to pick their battles. They already took our government away, any representation or sympathy therein gone with it. Maybe they let us live just to remind the world that, while there may be a place for Augs to hide, it is still due to their good graces.

All the same, every morning I rise for her. The hatred of her image never falters or fails to arouse my determination. So I leave, patch up those whom may one day lead us from darkness and into light. While Lemaire’s death may have caused everything, an unwitting catalyst to a global revolution, it was us that let it happen– the survivors. Whether from our own convictions, or a greater cause, we can not allow ourselves to fall again. At least for us Germans, we’re eternally optimists, believing in a better world with heads even stronger than our unshakable hearts, and finally working toward it.

Short Story: The True Patriot

His fingers flew over the keys with pointed urgency in place of agility. Normally, he might take his time, savor each string of code written or command entered. Today, he was only concerned with finishing before the clock hit ten-to-five. If it did, the entire plan would be shot, and he’d have to return to his handlers with nothing, forced to slog through one more day where his ruse might falter.

His name was Shane Yates; a nobody, low-level programmer working for the largest tech firm in the known world. Arc Systems was the number one creator and distributor of mobility and security software for cybernetic augments and prosthetics. Shane had written code for them on everything from Optical HUD augs to bionic-limb movements. Most every major augment on the market had some of strings of his work in them. All the same, he lived on minimum wage, ate day old leftovers, and showered in cold water with the lights off.

Such was the nature of the US after the Corporate Take-over displaced the Government as the country’s overseer. Unlike London or Paris, where silent or violent revolutions were taking place, the US had willingly allowed the take-over. The population had been pacified by a bolstered economy that allowed higher-wages, lowered cost of living, and faster, freer internet porn. Even to those that were awake, aware, the revelation that the Corps were taking over was nothing new. Most didn’t care. Those that did, found themselves as an extreme minority.

All of that changed with the Corporate Accountability Act; a ratification to the US Constitution that gave corporations all the rights of individual people with none of the responsibilities nor– contrary to its name– legal accountability of the people. In essence, the CAA allowed Corporations the right to do anything a person could without fear of reprisal. In America, that meant espionage, sabotage, and the lobbying of political figures for one purpose or another. It wasn’t long before the government’s power was almost wholly transferred to the few, corporate boards that already controlled its economy.

Shortly after, the US militaries were absorbed into local branches of Corps whose headquarters were scattered around the globe. A few, smaller businesses still remained here and there, but only through the laziness of the thirteen, global corporations that couldn’t be bothered with things like dry-cleaning or pizza delivery.

Shane was one of the “lucky” few who managed to keep their job when that American Dream turned into a seedy nightmare. The Corps’ lobbying power was unmatched, their only concerns their competition with one another. Their money lined the pockets of every politician until they nearly drowned in a sea of their own materialism. Then, once sated by the glitz of the money offered, they blindly ratified new bills and laws so filled with legalese even lawyers couldn’t properly discern them.

Everything changed then; the CAA led to power for the Corps whom corrupted the government until it was, quite literally, useless. All the same, a few, minor acronym agencies managed to survive the obsolescence of their governing system. One of those few, was the CIA.

Though its funding had been cut, and its duties merged with that of the maligned and poorly perceived NSA, it still largely functioned as intended. In an era where Corporate-Security was both police and national defense, surveillance was more invasive than even most, high-level Corp employees knew. With its coverage, the CIA remained powerful enough to act as the last investigative body and line of defense against any threats, internal or otherwise, to America’s sovereignty.

With that in mind, it was of the utmost importance they procure the work passed off to Shane; next-generation augment-software that controlled small, embedded magnetic fields and cameras to create true-to-life invisibility. With the magnetic field capable of masking both thermal and motion-sensors, as well as deceiving both human and electronic eyes, there was no end to the possible applications– whether for a national spy agency or a rogue, terrorist force. More importantly though, Shane wanted out, and the CIA knew that.

Shane had always been a simple person. After graduating from College, he’d been happy just to get a job. The nature of the world was soon revealed to him though. He began to slave away each day for less pay than he was worth. The bolstered economy showed its true face then. It was little more than a facade to keep the people in-line, give them enough to live on but not to become overly roused by passions or pass-times.

Unlike most other countries, whose digital currencies were still worth something, the US’ digital dollar was mostly useless outside a few, non-corporate shops. Otherwise, everything was calculated in terms of debt. What had once been credit-card balances became life-debts; the amount owed to any corporation by an individual that had “charged” anything. When first introduced, the idea was meant to help repay a surplus National Debt from decades of war, but like everything else, it too became yet another collar and chain around the peoples’ necks.

The CIA approached Shane on a park bench. It was one of the gray-afternoons he’d come to expect of his rare days off. He sat alone, staring, with hazel eyes glazed over by the ferocity of his exhaustion. A man sat next to him with mirrored, wrap-around sunglasses.

“Don’t get up,” he instructed. “Don’t make eye-contact. We’re being surveilled, but I’ve managed to deploy a net to interfere with any audio devices. We have two minutes.”

Shane’s mind was dulled, but intrigued. He kept his eyes forward, “Who are you?”

“Who I am isn’t important,” the man replied over a gust of cold wind. A casual glance swept the the park ahead as he continued, “What I want is simple; your employers have something you will receive. I need you to copy it, then corrupt everything they have on it.”

Shane’s eyes widened, his neck locked against turns for fear of reprisal, “Are you insane? Why would I do that? I’ll lose my job, and Corp-Sec will murder me.”

“My people have been watching you,” the man explained quietly. “Like many others, you’re not happy with the state of the country. You can decide, here and now, whether you’ll be one of the few that does something about it.”

Shane swallowed hard, “What’s my incentive?”

The man checked his wrist-watch, replied, “Let’s just say, our government still has enough support that you can choose to start fresh anywhere you want, as whomever you want.” He rose to button his long coat, readied to walk away, “If you choose to help, we’ll contact you.”

“How will you know?”

He began to walk away, “We’ll know.”

And so he sat, one week to the day later, at his desk. His eyes darted between the clock and the progress bar on his screen. It crawled forward as it copied the gigs of data the software represented. The seconds ticked away. At ten to five he was expected to be up, ready to clock out with all of the other wage-slaves like him. The progress bar jumped to completion. He sighed relief, exchanged the USB drive for another, and shut off the screen to his computer.

A few minutes later Shane was in the street, waiting for the bus. About now, the auto-injection computer virus contained on the second flash-drive had finished uploading. It would be unfurling its corruption through Arc Systems’ servers.

A man in a fedora and black overcoat appeared. He walked toward Shane with mirrored sunglasses and a hand stiff at his side. Shane palmed the flash-drive in his right hand. The man brushed past him and with a sleight of hand, took the drive from Shane to disappear into the crowd.

The large, electric bus rolled quietly into place. Shane Yates entered the bus for the last time that afternoon. Who he had been was gone, and who he was to become hadn’t been decided yet. In time though, the CIA would repay the man that had turned against his masters, helped ensure the sovereignty of his homeland. No matter what the Corps would call him, he was a true patriot, willing to cross the line, give up everything when his country asked him to.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: The Elder Three

One of three,
the elder race,
are you happy,
in this place?

Was it how,
you were born,
into this world,
broken and torn
as the men blew,
the war’s horn?

Or did you come
to love’s embrace,
to hide from us,
your eternal face?

Was it your choice,
to be scorned,
ripped from time,
by the hallow formed?

Did it call to you,
god-like, unarmed?
Tell me now,
my love be warmed.

Is it you alone,
that lit the fires,
of earth and men,
and hatred’s pyres?

Was it the other two,
of your station,
that then flew,
from Earth’s libations?

I listen, hear,
but with fear,
for a dying breath,
of my only dear.
Always to learn,
never to steer,
though I wish
with all my tears.

Gentle three,
the elder race,
what have you done,
to this place?

We’ve no more food,
left to brood,
with bloody death,
our only mood.

What compulsion,
of yours awaits?
Fulfillment from torture?
Our only fates?

One of three,
the elder race,
you’ve known nothing,
but your place.
So here is man,
in his own space,
leave us be,
return to grace.