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.

Bonus Short Story: One May Change Everything

He was stoned– baked out of his mind actually. He’d been smoking weed for near on four-hours straight from a two-foot water bong. It gurgled every few seconds with heady hits. The stink of skunk was as pungent as the smoke was visible. He’d chonged out the room long ago, was only keeping the rhythm going now so as not to dissipate the fish-bowl haze that had replaced the room’s O2 content.

Most would have said he was a burn-out; that living on a modest inheritance and legal settlement from a hit and run wasn’t living at all. He disagreed. He’d been run over by a car, had all of his ribs broken, both his legs, and one of his wrists. At the time he was nineteen. By twenty, he’d been in traction six weeks, spent another year learning to write, walk, and jerk-off again. The only thing that had gotten him through the boredom was the legal work and bowlfuls of grass. He’d had it hard, and defied anyone whom said otherwise.

He liked his life, enjoyed what he had, and never took more than he needed. He was grateful for all he was given, wanted only to get baked, play video games, and “keep on keepin’ on.”

He was at his latest boss-fight when the air around him began to stir. He didn’t notice it under the darkened lights that kept his aching eyes from throbbing; he’d beaten the game three times already– a seventy-hour epic saga of the life of a former bounty-hunter turned vigilante– but he’d also played his entire library two and three times over too. With a minute budget that only allowed for one game a month around necessities like rent, food, and an ounce of Hawaiian Green, he had to stretch each game as far as it would go, and did.

But he was content in the notion– even as the smoke swirled and a shadow began to encroach on his vision. His mind was focused, mouth-half open and droopy eyes centered ahead. The smoke snaked in front of him from the ingress of something through its presence. He swatted the thickest puffs away with a quick dismissal, unaware of the shadow that phased in and out beside him.

The faint flicker of a reflection caught his eye. Had his head not turned to see himself flicker in and out of form on the adjacent couch, he might not have believed it was real. Instead, his doppelganger solidified with a curious look at his hands. His mouth fell open as the “You Are Dead” screen appeared beside him.

His doppelganger relaxed back into the couch with a heavy sniff of the air, “Wow. Man, I haven’t smelled that in years.”

His eyes focused through the smoke at himself while he involuntarily swallowed, “Wh-what the fuck?” The continue screen appeared but he was too focused on himself, “Ar-are you… me?”

The doppelganger laughed, “You wish.” He took another deep whiff of the air, “Or maybe I do… Anyway, we’re not the same person, not really.”

“B-but, you’re… me, right?”

The doppelganger, “In blood and name– Curtis J–”

“Porter,” he said with a breathless finish.

He replied with a nod, “Right, but you should know better than anyone, a person’s more than their name and DNA.” The double sensed perplexity across the television’s beam of light. “That’s just where we start. We’re all born ninety-percent the same, but our experiences as we grow are what define us.”

The real Curtis’ eyes glazed over. He blinked hard, unstuck his tongue from his dry mouth. “S-sorry, I’m not… what’s this all about? Why am I– we, here?”

His doppelganger leaned toward him across the coffee table, “Because something went wrong in this place. Here and now. Something inside us changed. And with it, the world changed too. Now, I’m here to ensure things go as they’re supposed to.”

He shook off his dull ardor for complete disbelief, “You’re nuts. What could I possibly do, or not do, that would change the world?”

He watched himself from across the table as his left eye squinted with familiar skepticism, “There are people and places that rely on you to be present in order to nudge future events toward their destined path.”

Real Curtis’ eyes were flat-out wild now, “You’re nuts.” He stood to piss, followed by his phantom self toward the bathroom. It stood in the door jamb as he relieved himself, “Christ dude, invade privacy much?”

“You don’t understand,” he said with a shake of his head. “But how could you? You’re baked out of your fucking mind all the time and all you think about’s fucking video-games.”

He shook out the last few drops, flushed the toilet, “Hey man, fuck you. Don’t go blaming me for your nut-job fantasies.”

He made to walk past himself, was frozen by a cold hand that clasped his shoulder. His own eyes looked at him with a fury he wasn’t sure he’d ever possessed. “You have no fucking idea how important you are.”

Curtis’ vision suddenly went black. Images of rallies and protests outside corporate buildings and state houses appeared.

His doppelganger growled through his teeth, “You’re supposed to be there when it starts to crumble.” Crowds marched, pumped fists in the air rhythmically with distorted chants. “You’re meant to be on the front-fucking-line of a war for freedom– the final war.” Tanks began to roll forward from close, wide angles along city streets packed with protesters. “You’re supposed to be the voice of logic and reason in a new world.”

Curtis was ready to pass out. His head swam as names and dates, and countless vids and images flooded his brain from places and events that had yet to take place. He swayed on his feet.

His own voice was muddy through waters of confusion, “You are meant to be the General in a war that will end with one side eradicated or the other enslaved, forever.”

People rioted in the streets, attacked the tanks en-masse. Their guns smoked. Explosions shook the silent movie-reel. Some people managed to climb atop a tank, wrench its hatch open to drag out its crew. The vehicle turned on the others. More explosions, shaking scenery. Jets rocketed past over head.

“You’re meant to be there,” he said as his vision went black. “To lead the free against their oppressors and take the world back.”

He fell backward, head spinning. His head hit the floor as his vision narrowed to a black cone. His face loomed over him from his doppelganger. Its last words struggled to breach the static of his waning consciousness, “You cannot fail. A thousand men may never change a thing, while one may change everything. You are one.”

His vision went black. Silence engulfed him. In a blink he was once more awake, face hovering over the bong for another hit as the boss-battle began again. He swallowed hard, hit pause to slide the bong across the table. After a moment of aimless steps he found himself before the sliding glass doors of his twelfth floor apartment. They opened, gave passage to his balcony in the sun of a rising morning he once more saw from the wrong side.

He stepped to the balcony’s edge, breathless. Beneath him, the city sprawled outward like a patchwork quilt of humanity composed of all grays and whites. The bits of color were few, far between.

He wasn’t sure what the hell had happened. He’d been baked before, but somehow this was different, more than just a stoned daydream. He felt a tickle at the back of his skull, pulled his hand away to see blood.

“One may change everything,” echoed through his head like a whisper on wind.

But where to begin, and how?

He looked from the crimson on his finger-tips to the drab city. Color seemed as good a start as any. However he was meant to change the world it would start there. He swallowed hard, relaxed, and turned away to begin.

Short Story: I Remember…

I remember the ships that hovered over our world in conquest. I remember it as if it had only just happened. Though it was decades ago now, nothing is so vivid in my mind. They came from the sky on glowing trails, like someone had hurled fire-bombs at us. An apt comparison given what came later. The only difference? They never hit the ground. They never had to. They came to a rest, searing heat and all, just above the tops of the tallest buildings.

I remember sitting on the couch, then later, standing in the streets, seeing the giant television in then times-square that revealed we’d been beaten, or rather surrendered– the beatings came later. I can’t remember those. I don’t want to. What I do remember was wandering, guided by my mother’s hand, through New York’s chaotic streets. I’d never known the scent of fear– real, pure, human terror– until then. It was palpable on the tongue, stank like the homeless did, like we all do now.

My mother… she had a gentleness that died with her, as if the world took such a soft creature to protect her from the wrath her child’s generation would bear. Even now, I remain glad that the madness of those first days claimed her. Though I was terrified and alone for a long while, I knew even then it was safer to be dead than subject to the horrors to come.

The first mistake we made as a civilization was existing. That was all it had taken to bring them from the skies over Alpha Centauri, have their forces launched across the openness of space to our backyard. Before the tele-streams and internet died for good, someone had calculated that they’d left their home system for Earth sometime around the broadcasts of Kennedy’s election, hadn’t arrived until the late 2010’s. It led to our second mistake.

I remembered being eight years old…. Christ, it feels like a life-time ago now. Maybe it was. Eight years old, with a gun shoved into my hands. It was a nine millimeter, fifteen round magazine with a thumb safety, and heavy. I remember that much. With that tool came the first beatings from my own kind, to instill in me how to hold it, aim it, kill with it. All because some armchair-genius had calculated the invaders expected our technology to be stuck in the sixties. What a fool.

It was only later that we learned, collectively, that our technological prowess would have never matched theirs. Not in a million years. They didn’t have to speak, or scream, or fire weapons. They simply arrived and the planet was already conquered. When we took up arms in resistance against our governments’ fealty, we spent immeasurable amounts of ammunition trying to kill them. They took full magazines from whole battalions of armed militias, their bodies riddled with holes, but bled not a single drop of fluid from their leathery hides. They were modern-day Khans, each of them, but even his conquest paled in comparison to theirs.

Their tactic was simple. To remember it now almost makes me laugh, but I can’t. I haven’t known joy or laughter, or anything more than fear for decades. I doubt there’s a human that has. As it was explained by a former-scientist just before his untimely execution, these humanoid creatures have some type of reinforced cartilage across their bodies– like the stuff our noses and joints are made of, but so strong it can withstand the force of bullets. They were walking kevlar, and because of their gel-like skeletons and regenerative abilities, nothing short of a nuclear weapon could stop them. Believe me, we tried them all; grenades, bombs, TNT, nothing worked. We learned that the hard way. Every one of them is like a walking terminator. Every. Single. One. Like those terrifying machines, they have only a goal to achieve– whatever it is– and they eliminate anything in the way of it.

Evidently, Humanity’s a part of that goal, because I remember the day their darkest weapon was revealed. As if compelled to by my own muscles, my body, fraught with the peril a rat faces in a sewer– and stinking like one at that– I encountered one of these invaders.

I was in an alley, running for my life after my militia detachment suddenly fell to the ground, began to seize, writhe, foam at the mouths. A few others and I managed to escape, but were split up. I had learned long ago not to scream nor draw attention. Even so, one of them must have sensed me, pursued me. It cornered me in an alley.

They don’t so much walk as float. Though they have two legs, it seems they’re useless. Their arms work though. I’ve seen it, felt it. They drift, lame, wherever they go. Queer-looking face tentacles take the place of mouths above three-fingered, malformed-hands with claws attached to arms longer than their legs. They make a god-awful sound– like someone’s ground metal against a cheese grater in your ear. It’s paralyzing. Both from fear and an auditory pain that seizes your muscles. It’s not even their greatest weapon– the one they conquered us with, or that I saw that night with my own eyes.

I remember sometimes doing things, even at a young age, and not remembering why I’d begun to do them or how. It was as if I simply materialized into the middle of an action, forgot everything about it. They have this way of doing that to you; making you freeze, drop your weapon, lie. For years, we thought we were gaining ground on them, and had received numerous reports about their deaths. We’d heard the war-stories of units that felled them in battle, and even I suspected the scientist’s words had been erroneous, that they could be killed.

How wrong I was. How wrong we all were.

They were lies; every story, every battle scar, ever supposed death of an invader. They’d fabricated the memories in the militia’s minds, used them as walking surveillance drones. They kept mental links through some kind of ESP, allowed them to spread their stories through the militias. Those stories flared into hope for victory, spread like wild-fires around the world. My best friend, the only person I trusted, was one of their plants. What she and I shared… it was the closest thing to joy left in the world. Even still, we could never smile. All of it was lies.

It’s been decades since they first came, and now all hope is lost. We know now what happened, even though we can’t remember how, or why we missed it. I remember hearing from a medic after a patrol that a person will sometimes forget the moments before and after a traumatic experience, sometimes including the trauma itself. It just sort of gets buried in your mind, so impossible to cope with you literally can’t. You fabricate things to put in its place, or else lose time altogether. It has something to do with an electrical overload in the brain that doesn’t allow memories to consciously form.

All I know is what happened after the raids. As if in a flash, we went from believing we might one day win, to knowing there was never been a fight to begin with. They simply appeared– walked in the front door as it were, and we were disarmed. Not a single one of us took up our weapons to fight. We couldn’t. We’d been brain-hacked, mind-controlled not to.

Now, I stand jam-packed with three-hundred other humans in a cage no bigger than a dozen feet squared, like cattle on a killing-floor. I don’t know where we are, or where we’re going, but I remember how we got here. I remember smiling and joy and happiness that once made days of sadness and sorrow worthwhile. But now all I know is despair and the sickly putrescence of two-hundred-odd other bodies smothering me. I forget my name, my friends’ names, even my home. But somehow, I remember my mother’s gentleness. I miss her. I miss the warmth of summer sun, and of childhood– what little of it I had– and the taste of fresh-water. I remember all of the good that came before the bad, something I cannot forget despite the doom we all face.

Maybe one day there will be hope again. Maybe not. All I know is that I remember it….