One Step Forward…

Author : Michael Shreeves

The call had gone out, and they came. Across land, sea, air, hundreds of miles, they came, three million all told. No one in United Dissent could afford to miss an opportunity like this. Still, especially with a pig like Beauregard being sworn in, we should’ve expected this.

If looks could kill, F.O.S.-Zone 841 would’ve been a massacre. Sierra Clubbers were glaring at fresh-cut stumps and fence posts, EFF lawbies at the suits running the multiphasic sight/sound anti-media ECM blanket, and polibloggers and libertarians at the 30ft live feed of the inauguration speech. Us neoComs and anarchists kept busy, thrashing to some third-rate spall band on a packing-crate stage.

Yet another white-button-shirt paced in my direction, his green peace-brassard hanging loose. His plaque didn’t say if he was latter-day or witness, but to us and the IRS it didn’t really matter anymore.

“This is an absolute outrage! They bleed our church dry, and we aren’t even heard! Where is the media?”

“Well, CNN’s barred on threat of monopoly prosecution, MSNBC’s at the great temple for the Patch Vigil, and Fox, well…” I glanced at the holo projector fanfare. “You hear about Phoenix?”

The white shirt cringed. “No one prosecuted, but four-hundred hospitalized… Still, I’ve had the training. If they come, we’ll take it as martyrs, and the people will hear us.”

“They will, eh? What people exactly? The Supporters who hate us here, or the outsiders who hate us all anyway? What network’ll tell ’em?”

“But…. but…” Boy Scout stuttered. Deputy Directors in the UD weren’t supposed to talk like me. “There are three million of us here, they HAVE to hear us!”

“Three million in a thousand camps hacked last-minute out of the swamps. But don’t worry, I’m sure the suits are listening to every word we say.” I looked at Boy Scout and shrugged. “Look, its very simple. Non-violence has a lot of things to depend on. The bravery of its adherents and the brutality of its enemies are the ones we learn about. But the enemies have to care about their image. They have to want to look good for allies and voters and history. Reporters showed Ghandi and King beaten and won the hearts of the people. But the world already fears us, and the people, well, all they’ll ever hear about is how THEIR candidate’s inauguration went off without a hitch. They won’t even know we were here.”

“But… what then?”

We watched the commandeered metro buses pull up to the gates with some straggling dissenters. This batch preferred white hoods to peace brassards, though. Some of them didn’t even bother hiding their shotguns and bats as the suits processed them through the gates.

“Beauregard’s buddies are here. Excuse me.”

Boy Scout straightened up, ready to stand proud and take his licks. I walked over to the rapidly disintegrating stage, kicked the top off a crate, and grabbed an AK.

“Thank god we lost on gun control. Hasta la victoria!”

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Stronghold

Author : Kenny R. Brown

A very sweaty, very fat man with a rifle paces back and forth at the top of the wall. He is guarding the only entrance, but he is more for effect than for any real purpose. An entire army would be unable to break down these doors. Made of an unknown metal, the entire fortress, let alone the doors are a relic of a long forgotten time.

The most ancient texts in the archives refer to the construction of the Stronghold as the last hope of the people, but the threat to be avoided was omitted from even those texts. Most of the collective wisdom of humanity was lost when the Terms went dark.

Now, those of us who are left gather at the doors of the Stronghold each day; hoping that this will be the day that we are chosen. On the days when the doors open laborers are brought in to toil in exchange for a brick of SynFood.

I have been coming each day since I was a boy. Today though is different. Today, I have come for another reason. During the last dark season; as I was exploring the caves near the village, I stumbled across a camp of the ancients. Inside the remains of a vehicle; I found a trunk containing a rifle much like the one carried by the sweaty fat man. Also, there was a Term; but this one wasn’t dark. It was portable, and self-powered.

I read about the Stronghold. How it was built to house millions; protecting them from an ancient catastrophe. What’s more; I found the code to remotely open the doors. Today; I will bring my requests to the door of the Stronghold. When they refuse to offer shelter for the people of my village; I will open the doors and the men of my clan will storm the Stronghold. Today; the walls of Jericho will fall.

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Eternal Life

Author : Patrick Supple

At the peak of the technological firestorm of the mid-21st century, few would have forecast a second Dark Age. The advance of dogma started with the unification of the world’s major religions into an evangelical philosophy in the 2050s. Many had welcomed the amalgamation, believing it would consign wars of faith to history. Yet within two decades the New Faith had dramatically expanded its following through its proselytizing against the dehumanizing and non-spiritual nature of modern technology. The New Faith’s power grew until it was no longer a vehement critic of secular states – it became the state itself. Sharia laws which blended the moral traditions of the former religions were enacted and art and learning slowly atrophied. Inquisition agents searched for scientists who continued to study outlawed subjects and brought them before religious courts.

Harvey Johnson now stood before one such court. He had refused to end his studies in nanotechnology when university science departments were dissolved. He knew he was close to creating repair engines that could prolong human life indefinitely. For years he had worked in secret laboratories funded by wealthy individuals who dreamed of eternity. Harvey’s breakthrough arrived just weeks before he was found by the Inquisition and dragged away in chains.

The Bishop-Judge seated above Harvey began sentencing. “Your crimes are the most heinous that have been brought before this court. Despite the New Faith’s ruling on the sanctity and immutability of the God-like human form, you have continued to study your changeling art. For this crime, even death and the inevitability of your soul’s damnation are inadequate. Through you, this Court wants to send a message writ in stone to others who seek to alter God’s world. I thereby sentence you to become your creation and experience an eternal life of the dammed.”

While still trying to understand the sentence, Harvey was led to a side-room where he was administered an injection of his repair engines and handed back to the inquisition.

Less than a week later, Harvey was pushed into the obsidian void of space from an Inquisition shuttle. He was naked. The vacuum sucked the oxygen from his lungs, his veins exploded as his blood broiled and his skin blackened and cracked as it froze. Harvey felt an unendurable pain and despaired as he now understood his sentence. The repair engines began to reconstitute his body. His blood was recreated, ruptured veins closed, and his body reformed. With the nano-bots able to draw energy and matter from the dust and radiation of space, Harvey knew that his body could be repaired for an eternity. He also knew that the engines had been programmed to simply recreate and not develop adaptations to the rigor of vacuum. When Harvey’s body was whole once more, the stress of the void again tore it apart, only for the nano-bots to rebuild again. Harvey’s only hope would be for madness to come quickly and mask this pulse of destruction and creation, this drawn out moment of death.

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Clarity

Author : S. ‘Hrekka’ Clough

“So what are you?”

“I told you. A meme.” She pronounced it like ‘theme’. “A memeplex, to be precise. A self-propagating collection of ideas and concepts. A unit of culture, my dear.”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“Let me give you an analogy,” she smiled behind the mask. The effect was enchanting. “I’m like…a religion. An infectious idea, carried on because people believe me to be true, or wish I was, so carry me, my story, my form with them. Even if someone tried to kill me, I’m almost everywhere. Compared to normality, I’m untouchable! Entrenched…a part of society.”

I still had a blank look.

“Maybe a different example. I said infectious, right? I’m like a cultural virus. I’m only alive in the most rudimentary sense of the word, but part of being me is having an identity thrust upon me by culture, the medium which I infect. People spread me willingly. I’m a meme at it’s most complex; an example of a simple meme would be the song “Happy Birthday”. It’s an insanely successful, simple meme, yeah? Memes are identifiable, they link together into what makes us civilised. I’m part of the culture!”

“So you’re just a concept?”

“Exactly! Why else would I wear this mask?”

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Footnote to War

Author : Graham T. Swanson

Move.

Somewhere inside the soldier’s brain, a neuron crackled and died sending a signal to a limb incapable of receiving, or doing anything about it had it actually done so. He had long ago lost all link or power to the armor’s motivators.

Move.

It didn’t hurt. He was thankful for that, at least; the simulacrae hadn’t lied. The problem was the stasis. The inability to do anything. Imprisoned within your own body, knowing the exact nano count (you’d been drilled in it since the day you got your Aegis) and knowing that you were going to die.

Waiting.

Move.

Another neuron fired. Another moment passed, and the broken figure in the emeraldine armor remained a still portrait beneath the blazing sun. Around him, the calcisand swirled in a new, violent gust of wind, scratching at the glazed surface of the armor ineffectually. Outside the Aegis, that might’ve killed him.

Plenty of time to wait. He listened as best he could for the telltale howl of a stormkicker wind, and fought down the panic rising behind his eyes.

That which we believe in, we are capable of. That which we are capable of, we do.

You are a Protector. Your will becomes your law. You are a Protector.

Move.

Another neuron fired. Another moment passed.

And then he did hear a sound. Loud, arrhythmic, the clatter of bone on bone. A sound that broke even his neurochemically enforced calm. An enemy sound. Instinctually, he listened for the soft following thump of the massive feet. Another half of his mind chanted an Our Father as the three-meter shadow appeared at the crest of the dune, four feet moving in cadence.

It was hurt, its tiniest weave betraying that fact. He wondered what it wanted here. He’d heard the stories, that the Vraakan ate the dead; seen the films. Maybe that was what it wanted; maybe it was a survivor, seeking last sustenance. He took morbid pleasure in the fact that that scared him less than the idea of being buried by a stormswept dune, covered over like a footnote. A footnote in a war whose story was filled with them already.

The great figure approached him. From beneath the black-lacquer crags of its armor, stretched across its mighty, demoniac reptilian form, he could see the dark-hued blood flow in rivulets over the red-grey scales. It was breathing heavily, harshly. He glimpsed the huge, ugly wound that would kill this enemy.

The xeno, the enemy, hadn’t come to feed. They’d come to die.

One massive enemy arm gently circled his ribcage and brought him up,cradling him like a mother with her child.

Firey eyes locked with his, and he realized their femininity somehow. A baritone whimper rumbled from her throat as she set herself down where he had been. When he didn’t respond, she whimpered again, pitifully.

She wanted a companion, was all. She didn’t want to die alone. He nodded, moving.

Afterwards, they died together.

They died warm.

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