Sunday, January 8, 2017

Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge Jan. 7 2017

...kept you waiting huh?

Alright I've been away for far too long, especially after that heavy last post considering our election. Don't worry, I'm still just as angry and bitter as before and yes he is still #NotMyPresident, but the minute this blog becomes more about the political landscape than about creatively analyzing games and film is the minute I close up shop and throw myself into the Susquehanna River.

But since I need to flex the old writing muscles I decided to dust off a Flash Fiction challenge headed by Terrible Minds, the blog held by maniac author Chuck Wendig. So in 1500 words or so the challenge is to write...a post-apocalyptic story. But it has to be distinctly original. No zombies, no nukes, come up with something else. So after the jump, take a dive into how I see the world ending.

InfoPunk: The Toxic Saints

Nobody knows the exact year the uprising happened. It happened so slowly and meticulously that when everything fell apart it was a surprise. Most of the population were wiped out either by public executions, disease brought in by our food and drinking water, and through nefarious means the very pillars of our world: the power plants, the roads, the bridges, the hospitals were infiltrated and sabotaged. As for the world leaders, they were too busy yelling at each other until it was too late.

The Infonet, a mass compendium of knowledge and public discourse open to everyone was supposed to bring us closer together. Libraries that were once full of books made with leather and paper were uploaded to the net, given fancy virtual reality interfaces so they could actually feel the stories and fictions take place. Film and music became part of this collective as well, leading to the slow decay of old movie theaters and performance stages. It was simply easier to broadcast from the net, you would always hit a bigger market and save a lot of money as well. The ability to gain a consensus on a general topic, the ease of checking reasoned research, and being able to make connections anywhere on the planet. Everyone had a voice and everyone had an audience. It was the beginning of a glorious future where all information was cherished and discourse was respected.

At least that's what the old papers say. That glorious future lead to the beginning of the problem. It lead to them interfering with our lives. It let them corrupt and defile what was once true and proven to us. Their voices drowned out the others, and their audiences treated their word as gospel. Like helpless children we were forced to eat poison by this scum wearing the mask of caring parents until we couldn't trust the hand that fed us anymore. But some got too used to eating the poison believing it was sugar.
It was all their fault the world died.

I was finally snapped out of my thoughts when I saw the road sign on my bicycle. There's only so many miles of dull hills and cracked roads meant for the rusted remains of cars you can take in before your mind begins to wander. It was a worn faded green sign with some old arcane symbol worn out with the name “Kaname City: Just Ahead” drawn on it with vibrant white paint. Thankfully there was an arrow pointing to what I can assume was once an exit ramp on border of my vision.
I casually dropped my kickstand and pulled out my rucksack. After some digging I found my notebook and cracked it open. I had a pencil once, but I had to sharpen it into a makeshift shiv to defend myself from a Popnil about two days ago. On the bright side I'm alive, on the other hand I can't update my notes about their activity. So no updated map that I can't trade to a local Cartographer for supplies, it's not like I haven't eaten in a day in a half or anything.

I flipped through my notes and tried to see if I could find anything about Kaname City. Last I checked I was still on the East Coast of what was once the United Land of America but Kaname sounded Japanese so I checked my section about Cultos. If the fishers down near Atlantica are to be believed the Cultos are a mostly neutral sort that appreciate certain progressive proclivities. The kind that enjoys complexity and individuality more than pragmatism or the like. In other words, a place I can rest for a while if I play my cards right.

I double checked my vocabulary index so I knew what terms to not use and got down to preparing my camo. Thankfully it's the winter months so I don't have to undo any of my arm wrappings or remove my balaclava, so instead I throw on my sunglasses and wrap a mauve scarf around my mouth, the color standing out against my black and grey winterwear. I make sure that the padding in my uniform gives me as androgynous as a figure as I can muster with discarded foam and wool, then I throw on the last piece of my disguise: a composite bow with several arrows.

It takes about an hour or more of pedaling before I reached Kaname's city limits and the extra layers didn't help. I could see steam rising from the small holes in my coat when the riflemen stopped me. I set aside my bike and held my hands out as a woman came out to greet me. She was tall and appeared to be wearing war paint, bright lines of orange across her alabaster skin. She was wearing a tunic with leather patches and what appeared to be a pair of Star Wars leggings, the kind with those robots printed all over.

“Drop the pack and keep your hands up,” she demanded while pulling a pistol on me.
“Yes ma'am,” I reply with as submissive a tone as I can muster.
As she searched my rucksack I contemplated if she knew how to fire the weapon. The downside of living after the Infonet collapse is that everyone's first reaction was to pack heat. True, she may be bluffing, but the riflemen around her probably aren't. After looking through my belongings, nothing but maps, notebooks the remains of old pencils and the last remains of my food rations, she comes back to my front, gun pointed at me with one hand with her arm locked. She's bluffing.

“What is your business here?” she asks, her tone less cold.
“I just need a place to sleep and resupply for the night,” I reply, continuously breaking eye contact and looking at the setting sun. I try to add a quiver to my voice before continuing, “Please... I have information that I am willing to trade for sanctuary,”

The woman slowly lowers her prop and raises a hand to pull my sunglasses off. Without the shades I get a better look at her face, one of defensiveness and fear slowly dissolving to compassion and empathy. The kind of look on people's faces that is the closest thing to God I will ever see. She smiles warmly while looking down at my padded body and gestured me to follow her. I picked up my rucksack and started walking my bike alongside her, the riflemen holstering their weapons and following behind us.

As I expected Kaname City was more bluster than action since it was more like a small neighborhood than a city. What remained of the houses after the purge bombings were held up by tarps, rugs and other thick yet eye catching materials. People were dashing to their homes, all while wearing thick robes in shades of purple, red, and yellow, urgent to get inside before things became freezing. Some were simply in tents and it was clear they were net dependent, I even heard one of them claim that exposure would make him tougher against the cold. That poor man.

The woman's little hovel was surprisingly intact as long as you ignored the hole in the wall was also the entrance. I sat down immediately to a warm fire and warmed my hands as she sat down next to me, holding a bowl of soup.

“You can remove your little disguise,” she asserted while handing me a spoon. As I began to motion for my bow she quickly yet softly added, “I was one of the good ones before the collapse,”
I didn't know what to do. They always say that to lower your guard, right before they shoot you in the head.
“What do you have to lose? Dying while not looking like a marathon transvestite?” She chuckled, while flicking my scarf.

Did she just say that? But the Cultos avoid that kind of language, worse yet they associate that talk with...them.

I raise my hands in what I believe was a fighting stance, right arm across my chest and left arm ready to block any attack. I take a deep breath and give her my test.
“When the uprising happened and they started using the war machines on the ants, what prevented the Great Equalizers from ending us?” I kept my language as vague and seeped in metaphor as I could. If she knew what these meant, she was around before the end of the Infonet, better yet she'd know its significance.
“The last few people that did what was needed, the Drones they're called now, managed to safely shut down and disable to plants and destroy the launch consoles, all before they were wiped out by the truthers and their followers,”

I very slowly exhaled and relaxed my stance, “They like the moniker of Popnils and Saints now,”

“Nothing saintly about them. People like us stop the world from going all Fury Road and we got a bullet in the head. Yet they keep thinking they're the heroes,” she shakes her head while readying a bowl for herself.
“That reminds me. Let the people know that the Popnils appear to have a camp about two days south of here. I think they had a working car but you might want to be careful,” I exposit between mouthfuls of kimchi and lamb meat.

“If they did they would have ran you over by now,” she responds. My respect for her skyrocketed.
“But that kind of info isn't enough to get a bed in my home, wanderer,”
“I'd give you a map but I used my last pencil making one of them a pirate,”
“No. What I want is personal,”

I came close to saying some chauvinistic one liner but bit my tongue, she may see past the boisterous actions of the Saints but she was still a Culto.

“By all means what do you want to know of me personally,”
“You're a Pathfinder. One of the types that travels, gathers and trades. Don't think I didn't notice your little collection of body masks in your bag. That kind of life can get you killed, the wrong color, the wrong word uttered, getting a certain quote right instead of their version of right,”

“What's your point?”
“Well why do you risk it?”
“To make sure places don't get torched to the ground by the kind of people who think wool gives people cancer,”
“Very funny,”
“You're starting to sound like an apologist,”
“Stop with the labels and deflection and tell me straight,” she barked.

I sighed and set aside my bowl, “Because I hope if I do enough runs, things can be like the old net days again. The ripping of info from old libraries, the transcribing of old vids, just blatantly doing basic science experiments.... All to cure the net poison. So maybe... just maybe we can get rid of the Saints,”
“And your caricatures?” she asks, poking my false mammaries,
“If you aren't one of us, you're one of them. And I'd rather be mistaken as one of us than...”
“Than the ones that let the world die?”
“Yeah... The Saints,” I reply, the last two words turning to acid in my mouth.
She slumps down on the wall next to me, “That's the kind of talk that puts you up against a firing squad,”
“You should look in the mirror Miss Incendiary Language,” I snap back.

She laughs. I join her. The rest of the conversation boiled down to remembering how things were before. Ordering meals and food and having it delivered to your door without raid groups blowing them up, drone deliveries not being hacked to explode against offenders of the latest fabricated Whatevergate fiasco. Stranger Things. All good times that helped sleep come easy a few minutes later.

Then the bullets started flying. Speak of the devil and the devil shall appear. We made a beeline for my bike. It's a one-seater but thankfully we were bony enough to partner up. She insisted she ride due to my exhaustion, I didn't complain. Plus it gave me more time to gesture her towards the highway.
The shots were rapidfire; automatic weapons. Not small concentrated bursts so it couldn't be the Knights, they also don't attack small settlements like this. I also heard catcalling in the night, everything from demanding where the people's secret gold stash were to declaring another nest of insects crushed to ordering the people to suck their collective pricks. Sounds like the Popnils, had to be. They probably followed me here. Shit.

The woman rode further into the night, using the building remains and dead trees to break up line of sight. I didn't hear any engines roaring so maybe we were safe.
“How did they hit us so fast?” she yelled, reading my mind.
“I don't know! They must have found a military surplus depot or something! Night Vision goggles seems most likely!”
“Well that's just great! And we have a bike, a bow and some arrows!”

I wasn't exactly proud of what happened next. We made our way to the highway and we kept riding with me and her alternating. We made our way to the remains of an old fast food joint and holed up there until morning. We let a bunch of people die to them, a scant dozen to their body count of the millions. 

Sadly the only thing left that was edible were ketchup packets and ready-made salads. At least I won't starve. At least we won't starve.


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