Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Future Looks Bleak


As anyone who has been reading this week knows the ladies over at Teacher Mentor Texts have devoted the month of March to Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction.  So far I have written five stories that fit into one of the two genres for my own “Bleak Week”.

Did you miss the stories?  Here are the stories for quick reference.

Off (Dystopian)
Just Another Day (Post-Apocalyptic)
The Audience at Home (Dystopian)
Night Hunt (Post-Apocalyptic)
The Way (Dystopian)

Now, as promised here are my thoughts on the two genres. 

*****
I have a love/hate relationship with Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction.  I think some amazing stories can be found within the two genres but I also feel the two genres often are at odds with one of my strongest viewpoints of humanity.

Before we get heavy into this discussion I want to make sure we are all on the same page.  Here are the short general definitions that Kellee came up for the two genres.

You can find her first post for the event discussing her definitions here.

Dystopian: Dystopian stories normally take place in a society that has pulled themselves back together after a disaster or epidemic and now has a controlling government where the citizens are repressed.

Post-Apocalyptic: Post-apocalyptic stories take place after a disaster that has devastated the world or region the character lives in.  The protagonists focus is primarily survival.

Ultimately both genres focus on the classic “what if” scenario.  They generally focus on what comes next after something has gone wrong.  Often it is something pretty damn bad.

The end of the world/crumble of society often sucks pretty hard.

That is my problem with the two genres.  They generally end up being depressing as hell.  There is a reason I nicknamed this week “Bleak Week” for my writing.  Both genres have a tendency to create a rather bleak outlook of what comes next.  Real life is full of bleak enough stuff.  I usually like to see happier stuff in my literature.  I want that cheesy happy ending at the end.  I don’t really want to see people suffer for like 200 pages just for sake of high art.

I’m so sick of the “We were the monsters all along” messaging that creeps its way into the more gritty forms of literature.  The reason is that it goes against my personal viewpoint of humanity on a fundamental level.

I love humanity.  I think we are absolutely amazing.  I don’t believe in the Christian idea that we are evil and must repent for the evil that starts out in our hearts.  I strongly believe the exact opposite.  I firmly believe that humanity as a whole is inherently good and evil individuals are the exception to the rule.

I thus personally have a lot of issues with a lot of Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic stories because I feel on a basic level they are bad mouthing something that I love so dearly.  My belief is that when the time comes we will not go past the brink.  We would see the errors of our way and come together to build a better society instead of a flawed one.

With that said, that isn’t nearly as interesting to read.  J

The other side of the coin is that I feel both genres offer a LOT of creative wiggle room for creating awesome stories.  They have the advantage of being built on a strong foundation.  They are each built off our current expectations of the present.  It is only by utilizing those current expectations and modifying them that the stories of the bleak future gain significance.

Dystopian stories are warnings.  They show us what can happen if we aren’t careful.  They are a lighthouse built on the shore that is the future.  For my personal taste every good dystopian story should end with the destruction of the corrupted control group falling out of power as freedom gains wings once again.  Why?  I feel it is human nature to destroy such creations and I think it creates a basic innate sense of rightness when we read about another one crumpling to ruins.

Post-Apocalyptic stories are propaganda for human resiliency.  They show us the horrors that we as a species can endure.  They show us how close to destruction we can come and still walk away survivors.  We may not be roaches but our spirits are indestructible.

I think humor can act as a great tonic to help us digest these types of stories.  One of my favorite video games of all time is a game called Fallout.  It is a computer role-playing game set in a Post-Apocalyptic setting.  The bombs dropped and most of humanity got wiped out.  The whole game has a deep pervasive humor in it that helps to make the horrors of the world a little less horrible.

The reason this is important is because humanity needs light to help fight the dark.  I hate reading fiction where the characters are in dire situations and that is all that you experience.  Show me them trying their best to enjoy a moment between the horror.  Have them make terrible jokes and laugh about things they shouldn’t be laughing about.  Show me them trying to remain human in the face of truly terrible things.

I will gladly admit that I’m not the best at following my own advice here.  The five stories I wrote didn’t have a lot of humor in them.  Of course with a smaller medium like a short story you need to pick and choose and cut out a lot of the extra crap.  With that said I tried to maintain some element of hope in all of them.  Hope should be something that always creeps into both genres.

When hope isn’t constantly in the background of a Dystopian or Post-Apocalyptic story that is when I get annoyed.  The Walking Dead series is a good example of a series where I think hope is hard to find.  I understand what Robert Kirkman was trying to show.  He was trying to show all of the hardships but it ends up becoming one terrible thing after another with very little good to balance things out.

That is the danger of the two genres.  It is easy to simply dwell on the negative and the horror and look past the beauty that one can find if one keeps an open mind.  Both genres create a huge open canvas and countless stories can be told.  However, I feel all too often the canvas is painted with darkness and blood and the first new plant breaking through the broken soil is lost in the paint.

Both genres can be absolutely amazing.  However, they both have a tendency to become bleak affairs that magnify our weaknesses while ignoring our strengths.  That is why I have such a complicated relationship with the two genres.  I just see so much light and goodness in humanity and the two genres often don’t share that viewpoint.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Way


Day #5 of Bleak Week.  In honor of the ladies over at www.teachmentortexts.com this week is devoted to Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction.  Tomorrow I will write up a short Nonfiction piece on my thoughts on the two genres as per the event they are hosting.

Missed the first one?
How about the second one?
What about the third one?
What about the fourth one?

*****

Omar didn’t know what to do.  His orders were very clear.  However, the woman’s words were very convincing.  It was a difficult situation.  He was glad Noah was there.  Sometimes Omar had some doubts about the Way.  Noah never did.  That absolute faith was very reassuring.

“What if the Way is wrong?” the woman asked.

Not good word choice.  Noah was not going to like that one bit.

“The Way is never wrong, dear lady.  Surely you must know that.”

Omar was surprised.  He expected Noah to be yelling after that.  Instead he was just ice.  It was a strange reaction from his old friend.

“My name is Helen.”

It was a good tactic.  Every time you connected on a human level you won one point in the argument.

“Fine.  Look, Helen, it is obvious that you think you are very smart.  I can tell you honestly believe the things that you believe.  However, your beliefs are wrong.  It is just that simple.”

Ah, good old Noah.  Omar was yet again glad that Noah was handling most of the talking.

“What about you?  Are you just as close minded as your friend here?” she directed towards Omar.

Damn.  Omar was hoping she would be distracted by Noah.  Now she was asking for his input.  He could just ignore her.  She was in the wrong.  He could just force her to only talk to Noah.  That was a possibility.  That was his right as a breaker.  On the other hand, it just seemed rude.

“Well…I….umm….some of what you are saying makes some sense.”

Noah glared at him.  He clearly said the wrong thing.  Helen smiled.  It was a nice smile.

“A chink in the armor I see.” she said.

“My friend is just humoring you.  He said some of it makes some sense on a purely intellectual level.  However, we all know where that kind of thinking led us before don’t we?”

Noah was right of course.  The Way was the right solution.  Science had led to God’s judgment.  Six billion people were wiped off the map in a manner of hours.  Man’s dreams should not exceed his reach.

It all started with the group of people who used to be known as the country of Iran.  Something happened.  They were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.  The superpower at the time the United States then did the unthinkable.  They detonated multiple nuclear bombs destroying many of Iran’s largest cities.

From the stories the international community was outraged.  Some group known as the UN apparently gained a lot of power and a more permanent solution was engineered.

They created a system known as the Watcher.  It was apparently a series of mechanical watch dogs in the sky that were armed with powerful weapons.  It was designed to watch the world and make sure no future wars broke out.  It was designed to shoot missiles and jets out of the sky.

Something went wrong.  Some say a human went crazy and broke the system.  Some say the artificial man they created to watch everything went crazy on his own.  Nobody is sure what happened.

It didn’t matter.  Man had tried to play God and he suffered for his crime.  The major cities were first to be burned away by God’s judgment.  The smaller cities came next.  When all hope looked lost the Church was formed.  It killed the metal man and saved humanity.

The Church was everything.  They started off as the last remaining religious leaders of the major world religions.  Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and many others put aside their differences and came together as one.  The old ways had led to mutual destruction.  A new way had to be created.  Out of the rubble of the world and religions the one true faith was formed.  The Way came about.

All technology was evil.  It could only lead to destruction and depravity.  Six billion people were wiped away in an instant thanks to the foul corruption of technology.  Another 500 million or so died within the first ten years of the Cleansing.  They simply couldn’t give up the past.

The Church protected the survivors.  Many had thoughts of trying to rebuild using technology.  They didn’t see the danger present in suckling again on the teat of evil.  Omar and Noah were breakers.  It was their job to break relics of the past and break down notions of using technology.  They were authorized to do so by whatever means necessary, not excluding deadly force.

Omar really hoped it didn’t have to come to that final solution.

“That’s just Church propaganda.  Technology itself isn’t evil!  Sure, we all know it led us to a bad place but that just means we made some mistakes.  That doesn’t mean we should just give up!”

“I beg to differ, Helen.”

More ice from Noah.  Omar decided that he preferred it when Noah was yelling.  This new method of addressing the non-believers put him on edge.  Did something happen at that last camp when Noah went out with Seth?  He was just acting odd.

“Come on!  How could this little bauble hurt society?  All it does is help!”

Helen held up her treasure.  It was some kind of counting device.  It seemed to be powered by the rays of the sun.  She had previously put in the number 42 and pressed the + sign and then put in the number 68.  It came back with the correct answer of 110.  It did seem quite handy.

Noah shifted.  He didn’t like standing still for extended periods of time.  He preferred to be either marching or sitting down.  The club swayed on the left side of his body.  The crossbow on his back was currently not ready to be used.  However, the bolt already lodged in place in the specially crafted weapon showed that he could be ready to shoot within seconds.

“The device thinks.  It obviously has some kind of simple brain within it.  Such a device could eventually lead to more potent devices.  Those devices could then lead to new metal men and those metal men would then lead to humanity finally becoming extinct.  All technology must be destroyed.  It is the Way.  It is that which keeps us safe.”

Noah sighed.  He was obviously getting fed up with the long conversation.

“We have been incredibly polite.  We have stood here and listened to your crazy heathen ramblings.  However, I am starting to lose my patience.  You will give me that relic right now and I will destroy it.  The path is clear.  Either you give me the device or you will force my hand.”

For the first time in the conversation Helen finally hesitated.  Her resolve was strong.  However, she just realized that Noah’s might be even stronger.  Omar felt sorry for her.

“Helen, please just hand it over.  We don’t want to hurt anybody here.” Omar pleaded.

“Speak for yourself.” Noah said coldly.

Omar looked over at his old friend.  Something had to have happened.   Helen looked properly scared.  It seemed this was going to get messy really quickly.

“Excuse us a moment, Helen” Omar said politely while grabbing Noah’s arm.

Omar dragged Noah just out of earshot.  He positioned them so that he could still keep an eye on Helen and was actively trying to make sure Noah didn’t have a good shot at her.

“What the hell is wrong with you today?  She’s just a little girl!”

Noah responded with the same warmth he was displaying to Helen.

“If she is old enough to have an opinion she is old enough to face repercussions.”

Omar stared at Noah in total disbelief.  The two of them had grown up together.  They joined the breakers together.  Omar had known the man for the last twenty five years.  Now his old friend was casually talking about killing a girl who was fifteen at the most.

Omar was about to lose it.  He had to center himself.  Yelling in such a situation could only lead to disaster.  He had to try to fight fire with fire.  He tried to become as calm as possible.  He lowered his voice.  It was incredibly unlikely that Helen could hear him but he didn’t want to risk it.

“Noah, I don’t know what is going on with you today.  I don’t know if something happened when you were out with Seth or…”

“I saw the truth, Omar.  The real truth.  We are the last line.  If we falter humanity will slip.  Everything is up to us.  The Church is the last torch left burning.  If it goes out everything falls apart.”

What the hell did he see?  What could have changed his dear friend so drastically?

“Noah, whatever you saw, it can’t lead to this.  She’s just a girl for God’s sake.”

Noah stared back at Omar.  He was gone.  Noah the man was replaced by Noah the zealot.  It hurt Omar but he wasn’t completely surprised.  It had been coming.  It had been coming for a while.

“I saw technology.  We saw it with our own eyes.  We found a group of technos.  They were doing things….terrible, terrible things…they were defiling all that is holy….Seth and I and the others….we killed them….we killed all of them…men, women, children…we got the drop on them…twenty dead…we did what we must…we did all that we could…”

Omar couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  Noah and Seth had taken part in a massacre.  Omar had heard horror stories of overzealous breakers but never something like this.  Omar wanted to throw him.  He almost did.  Action forced his stomach to find some resolve though.

Noah had pushed Omar aside.  He had drawn his crossbow.  It was aimed at Helen.  She immediately threw the counting device down and fell to her knees.  She began to weep.

“I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  Please don’t kill me.  Please God.”

“It’s too late for that.” was all that Noah said.

That was it.  Omar reached his limit.  Twenty five years was a very long friendship.  Omar had hoped it would never come to this kind of terrible situation.  Part of him knew that it was inevitable though.  The warning signs were there.  Omar just didn’t want to believe them.

Deep down he had always had some trouble with the Church and following the Way.  It just always seemed so counterproductive.  Yes, technology was abused but should that really mean all technology should be avoided?  How many people died of simple infection every year simply because the old ways were considered against the teachings?  It was all just a new type of arrogance.

Omar punched Noah hard in the gut.  It should reinforce his point well enough without the danger of breaking his hand or permanently hurting Noah.  The punch achieved his goal.  Noah missed Helen.  The shot went far to the left.  Helen loudly thanked the Gods above.

Noah dropped to his knees.  He seemed to be reeling both from the punch and the emotional impact of being betrayed by his best friend.

Omar looked down at his old friend.

“Helen, pick up your trinket.  We’re leaving.”

Omar took off his holy symbol and kneeled down.  He placed it in Noah’s right hand.

“You will regret this” he said through gritted teeth.

“You might be right.  However, I can no longer take part in a Church that kills children just for the sake of maintaining order.  Goodbye, Noah.  I hope we don’t meet again.”

“This is how it starts.”

“So be it.”

Omar stood up and quickly took Helen’s hand.  They had to move quickly. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Night Hunt


Day #4 of Bleak Week.  In honor of the ladies over at www.teachmentortexts.com this week is devoted to Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction.  On Saturday I will write up a short Nonfiction piece on my thoughts on the two genres as per the event they are hosting.

Missed the first one?
How about the second one?
What about the third one?

*****
Arden pulled the trigger and hoped for the best.  He wasn’t the best shot in the camp and his rifle was absolute crap.  The two were related of course.  Demarcus was the best shot.  He had the best rifle as the result.  His hunting skills were necessary to bring in food for the entire camp.  His shots had to count as much as possible.

Arden was the worst in the camp.  He had the lowest quality rifle.  If he wanted to get better he would have to work for it and excel at hitting his target even though his equipment was lacking.  It was a well established tradition that worked well.  Demarcus used to be a terrible shot only five years ago.  He became the best because he worked through the limitations of the technology given to him.

Arden adjusted his night vision goggles.  He increased the magnification to 4X.  Nope.  The shot didn’t connect.  Arden wished he was surprised.  He adjusted back down to 1X and began to move towards his prey.  If it was a deer or something larger he might have had a chance.  However, the rabbit he was aiming for easily avoided his clumsy shot.

Arden walked deeper into the woods.  They opened up into a clearing.  He was hoping he might find some good vegetation to harvest.  He wasn’t a good shot but he was pretty good at finding the best tasting weeds and mushrooms.  He was surprised to find something much better.

It was a walker.  The large mechanical combat suit was in fantastic shape.  He hadn’t seen one in years.  He had forgotten how large they were.  If it was standing up it would have been twenty feet tall easy.  Now it just slumped down in the woods, a forgotten memory of what darkened the sky.

They were supposed to change the world.  They did.  They changed it in such a drastic way society almost crumbled.  Armies of soldiers protected in solar powered killing machines burned across countries with the poor citizens caught in the cross fire.  Nations fell again and again as the behemoths were used to fight for dwindling resources.  China and the United States were the last ones standing and the US knew they couldn’t compete with China’s numbers.  They became desperate.

They decided they had to act and act quickly.

The Shade rockets were launched by the United States on March 9th, 2120.  They hit the atmosphere with a chemical weapon that was supposed to temporarily block out the sun.  On March 10th the US attacked China with ground troops.  China retaliated.  A billion people died in one day.

Neither side won.  The remains of the scorched nations rose up and took away their toys.

The Shade was only supposed to last a few days.  It was only supposed to last long enough to disable the walkers of the Chinese for a decisive victory.

That was eighty years ago.

Most of the walkers had long been broken down for scrap.  Somehow this walker had escaped the rippers.  Arden took the flare out of his backpack.  He fired it up into the air making sure not to look up.  Such a bright light in a world with no sun would be blinding.  It wouldn’t be so bad for those back in camp though.  They would soon be coming to see his discovery.  Flares were rare these days.  You only sent one up when you found something good.

Arden looked around the clearing and appreciated the beauty of the trees.  According to his grandfather the original survivors thought they were doomed.  A world without sunlight could not last.  Luckily the Americans in their arrogance were also paranoid.  They had developed special techniques for modifying plant life just in case it went slightly longer than they anticipated.

The methods were flawed but the research was good enough.  There was no obvious sunlight to human eyes but it was still present.  It was just reduced to such a degree that to humans it was always night.  That was no longer the case for the vegetation of the world after some genetic modifications.  Now the various plants of earth were doing better than the animals.

There was movement off to Arden’s left.  He prepped his rifle.  A long list of possibilities went through his mind.  It could just be an animal, but it also could just as easily be a hunter from a rival camp.  Arden prayed it was not the latter.  It would still take minutes for his camp to reach him.  He had little chance in a firefight against someone more skilled.

It was Demarcus.  He came out of the woods with his gun on the ready.  It was pointing directly at Arden’s head.  It would have been far too easy for him to pull the trigger.  Arden tensed and kept his gun drawn.  He was aiming at his rival’s head.  One of them was far more likely to hit.

“Arden, why would you waste a flare on…”

He saw it.  The forest was trying to claim it.  From his side of the clearing it was less obvious.  The overgrown was winning.  However, it could only hide so much.

“Still think it’s a waste?”
Arden watched Demarcus shake his head on the other side of the clearing.  His head only moved slightly.  He took in the find but his right eye was still looking through his goggles into his scope.  The rifle was still trained on Arden ready for a kill shot.

“Certainly not.  Wow.  Quite the find…”

Arden was at Demarcus’s mercy and both men knew it.  Only two of them were at the clearing.  An accident could happen very easily.  Resources were scarce.  It was a global problem.  More importantly it was also present on a more local level.  Any new resources brought into the camp brought honor.

Arden had a clean shot on Demarcus.  If he was a better shot he could kill the man and claim that Demarcus tried to kill him to take credit.  It was a half truth at best.  After all the best shot in the camp still had his rifle pointed at him.  Both men were thinking similar thoughts.  Demarcus could just as easily claim that the flare was him and that Arden tried to kill him out of jealousy.

Arden took to heart the rules his grandfather and father taught him.  Don’t start any fights unless there is no other option.  Humanity was too weak.  Killing each other off only decreased your own chance of survival.  His kin also taught him to have pride.  It was one of the few things that a man had left these days.  He wasn’t just going to let Demarcus steal his discovery.

Arden took his scope off of his eye and put his rifle down in ready position.  He had to make the first move.  Demarcus was too ambitious.  Arden would have to show him that it was in his best interest to let him live.  A compromise would need to be brokered.

“Look Demarcus, nobody from camp is here yet.  No way for them to know the details of that flare right?  Either one of us could have sent it up.”

Sometimes you must feed the fire in order to let it burn out.

“Very true.  Could have been me.”

Demarcus maintained his vigil on Arden’s head.

“Could have been, yes.  However, do you really want that trouble?”

Demarcus shifted slightly.  Arden had peaked his interest.

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it.  You know the elder will want whoever found this to accompany him to the trading post.  Do you really want to deal with the scrappers?  Didn’t you have some trouble with their leader a while back?”
Arden was risking a lot.  Bringing up the past with someone with an ego was dangerous.  However, he was already in a particularly bad situation so he didn’t have a lot of great options.

“There…there might have been something…”

One more poke should do it.

“Wasn’t it something about his daughter?”

“ENOUGH!  They aren’t my favorite people.  What of it?”

Bingo.  Hook, line, and sinker.  Demarcus had become too good.  He had forgotten.  When you were at the bottom you had to work with what you had.  You didn’t have the best rifle.

“Let’s share the credit.  We can split the honor between us.  You already have plenty.  You’re the best hunter in the camp.  Everyone knows it.”

Fan the flames of accomplishment to protect the brush.

“Well, that is true.”

“Exactly.  You gain a little and I gain a lot.  Everyone in the camp will know you could have killed me out here and they will know you didn’t.  They will know you didn’t have to.  In turn you get to avoid the scrappers.  I’ll go and take care of it for you.  Do we have a deal?”

This was it.  Arden was pretty sure it was working but ego often became armor for the weak willed.  He closed his eyes.  Demarcus wouldn’t be able to see them through the goggles anyway.  He waited to hear the response from his would be killer.

“Deal.”

Arden opened his eyes and saw Demarcus holding his rifle only on the ready.  It worked.

Just then the Elder and five others entered the clearing.  They gasped and fully understood the significance of the discovery.  Arden quickly explained how Demarcus and he had discovered the clearing while hunting a family of deer.

In a few hours the camp was celebrating the two men.  Darcy wanted to hear all of the details again and again.  She was one of the prettiest girls in the camp and with the ammo of his discovery Arden finally felt the confidence to talk to her at great length.

For the first time in a long time it really felt like the sun was shining.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Audience at Home


Day #3 of Bleak Week.  In honor of the ladies over at www.teachmentortexts.com this week is devoted to Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction.  On Saturday I will write up a short Nonfiction piece on my thoughts on the two genres as per the event they are hosting.

Missed the first one?
How about the second one?

*****

Martin was so sick of TV.  There was never anything good on these days.  Everything was sex and violence.  The scholars thought the two subjects couldn’t get boring.
They were wrong.

Martin watched a scared young woman running in the woods.  Her name was Jenny apparently.  She was running away from a man named Peter.  He was chasing her with an axe.

Why?

That is how the audience last voted.

It was supposed to be very exciting and cutting edge.  Martin admitted that it was kind of fun at first but now he missed simpler entertainment.  He missed scripted shows.

A new vote appeared on the screen.  What should happen next?

1) Peter Kills Jenny with the Axe
2) Peter Kills Jenny via another method
3) Peter rapes Jenny
4) Jenny Kills Peter with the Axe
5) Jenny Kills Peter with another method
6) Other

Martin felt bad for the actors.  He knew they were criminals but having your free will ripped away from you was still a pretty heinous thing.  These kinds of situations always made Martin feel kind of guilty.

He decided to test something.  He didn’t think it was going to work but he decided it couldn’t hurt to try.

“Twenty dollars on 6”

The balance built into his left arm decreased by $20.  He still had $543 left.  The connection unit spoke in its sexy female voice.

“Thanks, big boy.  I got your choice.  Tell me what you want to see next.”

At first he thought the voice would be fun.  Now he hated it.  Every selection was like a mockery.  He should have gone with the more neutral voice instead of the sexy voice.  However, he knew he could only blame himself.  His doctor did warn him at his last upgrade.  Now he would just have to put up with the sexy voice for another two months.

“I want to see Jenny and Peter talk.”

There was a pause.  The response back was supposed to be instant.

“I do not understand.  Please clarify.”

Martin rolled his eyes.  It had come to this.  He was arguing with his own connection unit.

“I want them to talk.  I don’t want them to fight.  I don’t want Jenny to be raped.  I don’t want Peter to be raped.  I just want them to talk.  No sex.  No violence.”

“I do not understand.  Please clarify.”

Peter had reached Jenny.  They were both just standing there looking scared.  Martin was amazed.  There must have not been many people watching.  His request seemed to be messing up the system somehow.  The sense of power was intoxicating.

“I want them to talk.  I want them to talk about the weather.”

“I do not understand.  Nonsense request suspected.  Please deposit more money to continue this interaction.”

This was altogether strange.  Martin decided to play along for the sake of curiosity.

“Forty three dollars to continue the interaction.”

Another pause.  He had never heard of a pause and now he encountered two.

“Confirmed.  Please rephrase your request.”

“Alright.  Fine.  I want Jenny and Peter to have a conversation about the weather.  Those woods look cold.  I want to hear their thoughts about the temperature and general weather of the woods.”
Martin continued to watch the actors.  They were just standing there.  It looked like they were trying to talk.  Unfortunately the nanomachines in their bodies prevented them from doing so unless specifically ordered to do so by the audience.

“Insufficient deposit.  Please deposit one hundred additional dollars to continue.”

One hundred extra dollars?  It was a ridiculous sum to make two actors have a conversation.  What the hell was going on with his unit?  It had to be a malfunction.  Didn’t it?

The actors were still just standing there.

“Deposit one hundred dollars to continue.”

His balance went down to $400.  This was turning into a very expensive experiment.

“Deposit confirmed.  Higher brain functions activated in units Jennifer Green and Peter Roberts.”

Higher brain functions activated?

The actors suddenly looked even more scared.  They then started to scream in unison.  Martin had chills.  What the hell did he do?

“It’s all a lie!  Everything’s a lie!  I didn’t do anything!” Jenny screamed.

“Stop voting!  You have the power!  The state doesn’t want you to see!” Peter followed.

They then both twitched.  It was the known twitch of the nanomachines interacting with the brain and delivering the instructions to be followed.

“This forest sure is cold, wouldn’t you say, Peter?”

“It sure is, Jenny.  I would say it is quite chilly.”

It was some of the worst dialogue he had ever heard but it was real.  Well, real enough.  It had worked.  His crazy experiment had worked.  He wasn’t sure why.  He just knew it was the most amazing thing he had seen in two years.

What were they talking about though?  What was that yelling about the state?

What the hell was going on?

His unit spoke up again.  The sexy voice now seemed to have a new deadly quality.

“Request confirmed.”

Martin had a hunch.  He wasn’t sure what was going on but he seemed to be somehow controlling the programming with just a little bit of money.  Normally the total bids were added up and the highest amount determined the outcome.  Obviously there were a lot of very frustrated people out there hoping for bloodshed that they were never going to get.

That was the thing though.  They were going to get it.  It had to be some kind of fluke in the system.  It was just a matter of time before the control went back to the uncaring mass of humanity.

“Deposit two hundred to continue” Martin said with a shaky voice.

He was quickly running out of money and he had no idea if this was going to work or not.  There was just something about what the two people said before they started talking about the weather.  Was the government up to something similar?  Martin figured $200 would be a pretty low amount to discover the truth if they were.

“Deposit Confirmed.  Next Command?”

Holy shit.  It worked.

“I want Jenny and Peter to run away from the set and act like they don’t have nanomachines in their heads for the rest of their lives.”

It was a crazy and stupid plan.  There was no way it was going to work…

The actors were still babbling on about the weather and then all of a sudden they both just stopped.  They started to look around frantically.  They realized something happened.  They then just started to run.  They ran out of the frame.  Martin could hear the show’s crew curse and the stream cut out.

“Request confirmed.”

Martin expected he was playing with fire.  However, he just had so many questions and it seemed like the two ex-TV stars were his connection to the answers.

Martin deposited his last $200 into the system.  He couldn’t see them anymore but the surreal connection was hopefully still active.  He ordered them to come to his house.  He just hoped they would make it.  They had a long trip ahead of them.

“Request Confirmed”

Pardon my dust...

Tweaking the blog look around a bit today.  Please pardon the changing look.  Should be settled relatively soon and then I will write up a new Dystopian story for all of you lovely people.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Just Another Day


Day #2 of Bleak Week.  In honor of the ladies over at www.teachmentortexts.com this week is devoted to Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction.  On Saturday I will write up a short Nonfiction piece on my thoughts on the two genres as per the event they are hosting.

Missed the first one?  Check it out here.

*****


Iris ducked under the punch.  It was sloppy but powerful.  She was glad it didn’t connect.  She quickly slapped near the man’s right ear.  It would throw off his balance for a bit.

Her main opponent was at least a foot taller than her.  He might have been two.  It didn’t matter.  He would go down just like everyone else.  He had to.  Losing wasn’t an option.

She rolled to the left.  Her second opponent was much faster.  Anything go fights were the worst.  They had the highest payout but they got really messy.

The dog missed her and Iris kicked it in the head with her left boot.  It was a strong breed.  One kick wasn’t going to do it.  First kick was just a delaying tactic.

She got to her feet and ran to the closest pile of rocks.  She climbed up quickly.  The pile would give her a temporary advantage of height.  It would be tougher for the dog to get to her and her opponent would need to punch up instead of down.

Iris took advantage of the brief calm to examine the crowd.  Things got chaotic after the bouts were over.  She would have to find potential employers and find them quickly.  Winning was only the first step.  The second step was convincing a lord or lady that you were worth his or her time.

She looked for a lady in vain.  They often didn’t come out to these events but when they did they were the best to work for.  They didn’t have as many uncomfortable requests.

She was running out of time.  Her opponents were closing in.

She kicked out quickly towards the head of her main attacker.  It was a kick she had practiced for years.  It had to be hard enough to do some damage but quick enough to avoid getting caught.  The speed was the far more important element of the equation.

He almost caught her leg but wasn’t quick enough.  Few were.  It connected and he lurched to his right.

Iris then quickly spun and picked up a smaller rock from her pile of safety.  She threw it at the head of her fast foe.  The dog was hit and reeled back bleeding.  Iris jumped off the pile and landed close to her main attacker.  She kicked him in the back of the knee hard and then pushed his head into the pile of rocks.  It was a solid series of blows.

Iris knew she could have tried to finish it right then.  However, it wasn’t worth the risk.  A losing man quickly got desperate.  One well placed grapple and Iris would be done.  She simply couldn’t risk it.  She also hadn’t found a good target yet in the crowd.

Then she saw her.  Her hair was long and black with fresh flowers braided into it.  Her nails were also long and black.  She was lovely.  She was the perfect image of a long forgotten time.

Each lady moved through the hellscape of the world with a grace that none could match.  They were the last bastions of the old world view of femininity.  They simply allowed their hair and nails to grow in a society where such things no longer made sense.  Long hair was a liability.  It was too easy to pull in a fight.  Long nails led to infection.  To let them grow showed status like very little else.  The ladies did not have to fight in the muck of the world.  They were above such things.

She had found her target.  The lady was already watching with interest.  Her clubs surrounded her keeping her safe.  The four men looked sturdy and loyal.  That was a good sign.  That meant she had good taste in bodyguards and knew how to treat people right.  Now Iris just had to put on a good show.

Iris had run to the other side of the arena.  With her opponent’s leg injured she knew she would have to worry about the dog first.  It was not doing very well with the two attacks to its head.  She hated fighting animals.  The dog didn’t deserve to be in this conflict beyond humans.  She really hated anything goes.

The dog leapt at her with renewed ferocity.  Iris was ready.  She landed another well timed kick to the head.  Punching a dog was never a good idea.  It was simply too easy to get your hand torn up via sharp teeth.  Sturdy boots made kicking a much smarter move.

The dog was down.  Iris knew what she had to do.  She didn’t like it but she couldn’t survive if she had to keep worrying about two opponents.  She kicked the dog three times in the ribs.  It was altogether unpleasant.  Hopefully it would keep the dog out for the rest of the fight.  If the master survived hopefully the dog would too.

She then ran full speed at the poor mutt’s master.  She was getting tired.  She recognized the signs of weakness creeping into her body.  It was her 5th bout for the day.  It was now or never.  She couldn’t keep dancing around the battlefield forever.

The lady would want to see grace.  She would want deadly and efficient grace.  That is what Iris could offer and they both knew it.  Otherwise one of the larger men present at the contest would be a better choice for employment.  Iris wasn’t going to let that happen.

Her opponent was getting ready for her.  He wasn’t sure what she was going to but he was trying to brace for the impact.  Iris knew it wouldn’t work.  She had already weakened his leg.  There was no way he could brace properly.  She had momentum on her side.

She continued to run.  Right before she reached him she shifted her body downward with maximum force and went into a summersault.  She then pushed down with her arms and pushed up with her legs.  The result was a strong kick to under her opponent’s jaw.  It was a risky move but it was difficult to counter, especially when the person’s leg was already injured.

Her opponent didn’t have a chance.  The kick connected and he fell to the floor.

The metal chiming started.  It was a metal rod hitting an old hubcap.  It was pretty typical for this type of arena.  Nicer places in the cities actually had legitimate gongs or drums.  That was what she heard from that traveler anyway.

The count reached ten and the fight was over.

Iris was given a pouch with twenty pennies.  It was a small fortune.  Each penny was worth a meal.  She put two in and came out with twenty.  It was an absolutely amazing rate of return.

She didn’t have time to waste.  She couldn’t dwell on her new fortune.  She took her pouch and ran through the throngs of people to the lady.  She had to put in the best offer.  Ladies often showed a preference to female fighters but nothing was ever guaranteed.  She had to bid well and present herself well to gain favor.  A bad bid was money wasted.  Any bid not accepted was still kept by the lord or lady.

One of the first winners of the day was already there kneeling before the lady.  His shirt was off showcasing his impressive muscles and his palms were open above his head offering ten pennies.  It was an impressive offer.  Iris had a good feeling about the lady.  She decided she had to beat the stranger.
Iris took out fifteen pennies from her pouch.  She placed eight in her right hand and seven in her left.  She then walked up to the lady with the best imitation of a lady’s grace she could and then kissed the back of each hand.  She then crossed her arms and looked up and then down.  She then got on both of her knees and raised her hands above her head with open palms.

“My lady, I offer you tribute this blessed day under God above.”

Iris was offering more than the well muscled man.  However, he was a better fighter than her.  She had watched his match.  He was quite skilled and handsome.  The fifteen would not be seen as an insult but it also might not have been enough.  Iris regretted her choice.  She should have offered nineteen.  That would have still left her a meal.  She was too cautious.  It might cost her.

Iris then felt the kiss on her forehead and the pennies leaving her palms.  The lady had made her choice.

Iris felt the hand under her chin and she looked up to beautiful blue eyes.

“You don’t know your value, little one.  I like that.  I would have hired you for five.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Ah, you have manners.  Good girl.  Come now.  I am done here.”

Iris followed her new lady away.  She had completed the first step.  She won her fights.  She completed her second step.  She had pleased the lady.  Now she just had to worry about the third step.  It was a good day.  She had a new lady and still had five pennies to her name.

*****

Edit – Apparently my male gaze was on overdrive when I first wrote this story.  I apologize to all of my female readers.  I tweaked it around to make it less offensive.  It is now not as ridiculous.  Sorry again.  I try to minimize the male gaze as much as I can in my writing since it is so prevalent in other parts of our entertainment but sometimes it creeps in like a sneaky little bastard.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Off


This week all of my writing will either fit into the Dystopian Genre or the Post-Apocalyptic Genre.  Why?  It is in honor of the lovely ladies over at www.teachmentortexts.com.  On Saturday I will write up a short Nonfiction piece on my thoughts on the genre as per the event they are hosting.  Before I do that I am going to treat you guys to writing that is a little bit more focused than usual.

It’s going to be kind of a bleak week.
  Next week will have some extra whimsy as medicine.
*****

Paul turned off his computer.  It was a bold move and he knew it was going to cost him.  He had about twenty minutes.  Central Command would be notified in fifteen.  He didn’t submit an upgrade approval form.  He didn’t have a certified upgrade tech on site.  It could only mean one thing.  In about twenty minutes Tech Support was going to be kicking down his door.

Paul knew he couldn’t waste time.  He quickly went to his guest room closet.  There was a small blind spot from the cameras where he his supplies.  With the cameras now without power the location of the supplies was no longer important.  Paul silently blessed the man who decided it would save money to have all of the power of the living unit come from the computer.  It was a beautiful gap in security.  It wasn’t important now but it had been critically important for the last three months.

Just getting the supplies was incredibly difficult and expensive.  His friend George had slowly been sneaking them into his dry cleaning.  When Paul went to hang up his clean clothes he used the blind spot to increase his cache.  The backpack was the hardest to hide.  George and he used multiple garment bags to decrease the chance of something looking off.  It was done last and it occurred two weeks ago.  If Central Command knew they would have acted by now.

Paul put on the backpack.  The camping gear, pistol, ammunition, food, water, and other supplies were quite heavy.  However, Paul had been working out more lately.  He had purchased new weights that did not have numbers listed on them.  He was able to fool the cameras and work out more than his designated amount as regulated by the state.  The weights were supposedly “foreign” and that is why they didn’t have the numbers.  The truth was that it was one of George’s friends who had found another crack in the system.

Paul leaned out the window and used the pistol to shoot the camera just outside.  It took 3 shots.  The silencer on the pistol would help to reduce the noise somewhat.  He wasn’t going to be sticking around to worry about noisy neighbors anyway.  He quickly stepped on to the fire escape and starting running down towards Mother Earth.

Fire escapes were a relic of the past.  With Central Command always watching the official line was that there would never be a reason to use one.  Fire Prevention could be on site within minutes.  All citizens were supposed to simply wait in the burning building for rescue.  The only reason fire escapes remained was the cost.  It was determined that it would be too expensive to remove every single one across the country.  Cheap cameras were just installed instead.  Technology was cheap.  Labor was not.

Labor costs had been rising for decades.  After the Russians released the White Death they skyrocketed.  Four billion people died within the year.  Technology was humanity’s only hope.  Central Command was born and the digital cage fell into place.

Paul hit the ground running.  He looked at his watch as he ran.  Five minutes.  Damn.  He thought he would have been able to do it all in four.  Not a good start.

It took another two minutes to get to the abandoned garage.  Ground transportation would be out of the question.  All cars would be monitored.  He only had one option.  It was one of the worst options he could think of but it was still an option.

As he entered the garage he saw his only hope.  The old entrance to the sewers was still intact.

Paul used the crowbar in his gear to open it up.  The smell was unbelievably bad.  He knew on an intellectual level that the sewers had not been used in twenty years.  There was no need.  Modern toilets simply disintegrated all body waste and it was converted into energy that went back into the grid.  The sewers were supposedly purged of waste using similar technology to reduce infection odds.

As Paul smelled the pungent aroma of decay and human waste he quickly decided that it was just another lie of the state.  Some might have been destroyed but it smelled like there was plenty left.

It didn’t matter though.  He put on his gas mask and night vision goggles and listened.  No chitters.  Good.  He was finally getting some good luck.  He put the EMP pulse in his pocket and threw down his gear into the sewer.  He quickly followed the gear down.  After landing he secured the backpack once more and started heading north.  He of course made sure to close up the sewer entrance to the best of his ability from below before he left.

He looked at his watch.  He was up to 10 minutes.   He breathed a sigh of relief.  He was doing alright.  He was in the safety of the sewers.  George said if he got this far his chances of escaping was about fifty percent.  Paul liked those odds.

He started heading up the sewers.  Still no chitters.  It was ominously quiet.  No beeps.  No sounds of the city.  It was just Paul and his feet splashing in the decrepit sewer.

Then he heard them.  The chitters.  Mechanical watchdogs meant to keep the sewers “clean of disease carrying vermin”.  It was a lie.  They may have had the secondary purpose of vermin control but everyone knew the truth.  The sewers were another liability.  They were one of the only ways to escape.  There was no reason to make them so large and fierce if they were only hunting rats.  They were designed to hunt humans that dared to dream of freedom.

Paul was prepared.  He had an EMP pulse.  It would create a pulse for 10 minutes once it was activated.  It was incredibly potent technology that cost Paul a fortune.  It was also of course highly illegal.  None of that mattered.  All that mattered was that it was his savior.

He continued north until he saw the first chitter.  The others quickly came into view.  They always traveled in packs, a savage mechanical mockery of the now extinct canines.  He pressed the activation sequence on the pulse and then secured it again in his pocket.  The chitters started to shake and they began to fall one by one.  Their neural nets would adjust to the frequency very soon. 

Paul wasted no time.  He took out his knife and went to the first scrambled chitter.  He cut the 4th wire from the left going into the head.  He couldn’t get to the main processing unit so he just had to settle for partially disabling the creature instead.    The 4th wire controlled distance logic.  After the EMP pulse was out of range it would chase him again.  However, with the wire cut it would hit a lot of walls along the way and give him some extra time.

Paul quickly cut four more wires and then headed away from the chitters.

He was up to 13 minutes.  He had seven minutes before Tech Support was breaking down his door.  He also had only 7 minutes left for the EMP pulse.  He prayed he would not meet any more chitters.

Unfortunately his prayers were not answered.  He met two more groups along the way.  He cut another 11 wires and one of them was able to leap at him before the EMP worked.  It must have had better shielding.  George had warned him that the EMP wasn’t perfect and didn’t affect every chitter with the exact same speed.  The giant gash on Paul’s left arm quickly proved the point.

At the 19 minute mark Paul reached his goal.  It was a strange goal to reach but it was a beautiful sight.  He found himself face to face with a concrete wall.  This was the turning point.  If George was alive freedom was just on the other side of that wall.  If he didn’t make it out the chitters would soon have a new meal for the night.

Paul took out the small seismic charge from his backpack.  He put it on the wall.  It immediately started to send out a slow constant thrumming sound.  This was it.

Paul listened to the thrumming and held his breath.

Then all of a sudden a different pitched sound came as greeting.  It was George.  Paul breathed out into the stale air of the gas mask.

The 20 minute mark came and went.  Paul was too distracted by the two sonic devices to look at this watch.    At the 23 minute mark the concrete wall crumbled.  The two sonic mining devices did their job and did it beautifully.

George, Tammy, Richard, and Lisa were waiting on the other side of the wall.

“Geez, took you long enough.” George said while smiling.

Paul was going to say something clever in response.  It just couldn’t come out.  He took off the gas mask and breathed the fresh air.  He started to cry softly despite himself.

Richard just nodded.  George turned around and started walking into the woods.  Lisa followed.

Tammy smiled softly and kissed him on the cheek.  She then took his hand.

The five of them had a lot of ground to cover.  Paul held Tammy’s hand for the first mile.  He needed it and Tammy understood.  It wasn’t a dream.  Her sweaty hand proved it.  It was really happening.  They were outside of the city.  They were off the grid.  They were off the machine.  The ever watchful eye was blind to them.  Everyone else was still on but they weren’t.  They were off.  They were truly free for the first time in their lives.