A Tale of The Monsterpocalypse
Fiction by A.G.M.
‘… and so, continuing our gazetteer of Devastation USA, we come across the quiet, quaint little town of Waurika.’
‘An oddity to this region, Waurika’s streets have never been riddled with craters nor its buildings been razed to the ground. Its citizens do not suffer from the starvation and cannibalism prevalent in other towns, nor are they armed to teeth, waylaying travelers.
‘In fact, as a town owned solely by a corporate entity, Waurika seems to enjoy a normalcy predating the Monsterpocalypse. Her streets are kept meticulously clean, her mail arrives via helicopter on time, her houses are all lit and well-tended.
‘Only the citizens of Waurika themselves bear haunted looks of
SPIES LIKE THEM
“There are five minutes left to the fifteen-minute break!” announced the harsh female monotone over the office PA system, causing Keith De Rose to almost cough his coffee through his nose. ‘What the Hell?’ he thought.
People began milling back to their cubicles, lattes in hand as last night’s TV episodes of whatever was fashionable to watch were discussed. Keith caught Ballantyne’s eye as she sank into her own cubicle. The attractive brunette’s eyes narrowed dangerously as she shook her head imperceptibly ‘No’.
Keith looked down, and ducked into his own cubicle to sort through another two hours of pointless busywork. The terminal he was assigned to had such limited functions for the job he was supposed to do he felt at times like crying. It was like in his other life, about ten thousand years ago when he had designed software for CaliCo back West. The same fifteen-minute breaks followed by two interrupted hours of pointless meetings, memo after memo and the phone ringing continuously to make sure no work got done… ever. He had managed to escape that hell by literally doing the corporate equivalent of a prison break, sending out surreptitiously his resume via illegal e-mail to a contact in another company, calling in sick to take a plane under a false ID from California to Portland for the interview and signing a contract with a date that would coincide with the one when he resigned at CaliCo. He ended designing software at an electronics firm specializing in gaming consoles. A job he had loved, as it was as creative and varied as any job in Hollywood: there were writers, directors, actors… even actresses, and the money was better, without all that hacking and gouging CaliCo did to reduce its employees’ paychecks to a slave-wage,
Then the Monsterpocalypse had happened. Between Shadow Sun and UberCorp, they had carved all of the East Coast into their own, little Corporate fiefdoms. Amongst the companies absorbed by the Mega-Corporations had been CaliCo and Keith’s own Gaming Software firm. What laboral model the Mega-Corps ended up following? Certainly not GamePlan’s laid-back, t-shirts and sandals liberal model, but CaliCo’s oppressive, glass-ceilinged, rat-raced, exploitative, dehumanizing model instead.
He would have preferred the hordes of slavering monsters that were terrorizing the East and Midwest to the smiling, quiet, politically correct bureaucrats who destroyed people’s lives with red tape and credit fees and penalty interest as effectively any slavering, towering Monster ever could.
And now he was back in, and worse, he had gone back in voluntarily. Gordon Craghill was so going to owe him after this was done…
At six O’clock sharp, the ten minute warning to prepare for the end of a laboral day sounded… ten minutes to six (?). Keith had five minutes to deactivate the tamper seal alarm on his terminal, connect the timer, battery and transceiver and seal the whole thing before his supervisor came to advise him he had five minute left to be packed and ready to go home.
Sure enough, Ms. Collette showed wishing him sweetly a good afternoon and a hope of seeing him tomorrow. As she did so, she glanced at his desk to see if it was all tidy and the monitor was switched off, no paper was out of place, his In Box was clear and his portfolio was neatly packed. Keith was confident they would be as he had not done any work for the day, for a week now. He smiled thanks, wishing her well and hoping to see her tomorrow. It was a sickening ritual that had to be carried out daily, or security would detain him at the entrance.
Once outside the main building, at exactly six O’clock sharp (but actually an hour later after the whole process began) his official eight hours leisure began, but which in reality were six hours, as two hours of that time were spent in similar processes before and after work, lunch did not count, so one less hour was taken out of ‘official’ leisure time. Then there were company after-hour activities, meetings and gatherings, as well as the obligatory, daily errands required by law to live Waurika, plus the time necessary for commuting to all of the above. The net result being an ‘official’ time of leisure of usually no more than one hour a day, or less if one was a high-paying executive. If one worked in that pay-grade, one could expect work to intrude even into the ‘Official’ Rest time. Not that it did not happen to the rest of the salary-grunts as well.
It was during that hour-and-a-half of ‘Official’ Leisure that Keith had a chance to meet with his coworker. They met at the only side walk Cafe in town. It was located along a tree-lined boulevard in the worker’s, low-rent residential block. A complex of eight apartment buildings, complete with a community center and church. Lining both sides of the boulevard were boutiques, a market, Movie House, fast foods and bookstore/video/ coffee house. East of the complex was a four-lane Main street, separating the Residential Area from the a complex of 20+ story-high office buildings where line workers labored at a Communications Network Network, Town Hall, Courthouse, Justice Department and Hospital. Main street ran northward, forming a bridge over a small river dividing Waurika into two neat halves. Northwest were the elite apartment complexes for Upper Management, which included a Sports Complex (complete with track field, tennis courts, spa, Golf Course and Country Club), and directly opposite at northeast were the Manufacturing complex, Power plant and warehouses where the Credit-Slave Professionals labored for the Corporation.
Unlike Wage-Slaves like himself, the Credit-Slaves were mostly scientists and engineers. They had a better living standard than Wage-Slaves, getting better apartments, access to the Executive Spas, Boutiques and vacation packages, but it was all on credit. Professionals initially fell into debt with banks and Credit Companies and UberCorp bought their contracts cheaply, so the Pros ended owing their debt to UberCorp, which they supposedly could work off in time by working for the Corporation. To this debt of course were added medical insurance, rent, plus taxes owed, diet, transportation and vacation time which meant that with compounded interest, penalties and financing fees a scientist, engineer or technician could repay their debt in the next 5,000 years. That meant that their children inherited the debt upon the death of their parents, and eventually had to work for UberCorp. That meant training in College for a high-paying job at the Company, which added the costs of said College to the debt owed by that family.
Wage Slaves on the other hand had a little easier in the fact that after insurance, taxes, hidden fees, Social Security, and sky-high living costs they got paid almost nothing and could be fired at any moment without risk of losing any revenue. Unfortunately, getting fired during these apocalyptic times could mean a death sentence.
As Keith brooded on such cheery thoughts, he crossed the street to the Café, minding the cop alertly watching over pedestrian traffic. The damn things still creeped him out, as cops were made to resemble perfect mannequins, forever appearing to be smiling in still, friendly postures. They only changed positions when sensors indicated no one was watching. All had bland and attractive features designed to inspire confidence, but gave every corner in Waurika a haunted feeling as these figures stood on watch day after day on every corner. The mannequins noted every infraction, recorded any vaguely subversive conversation and were alert to any erratic behavior patterns in individuals on the street. Later in the day, the person would find her bank account slashed by fines or a notification to report to the nearest police booth for detention. The person failing to answer an arrest notification simply vanished. The next day, her apartment was empty of any trace that anyone had ever lived there, and at work her cubicle appeared cleared and ready to receive a new employee.
Suppressing a shudder at the uniformed mannequins, he took his seat at the Café, ordering an overpriced drink thinking his coworker was late.
After a few minutes of fretting and wondering if she had been picked up, his partner arrived in a gym leotard all flushed and sweaty. A young woman with raven-black hair cut short, elfin features, slender but athletic build that still managed to have wide, generous hips. He could see why his friend and leader had chosen her. Coco Ballantyne was a sexy minx, and knew how to use her looks to get people to tell her stuff.
Ballantyne sat at his table, somewhat out of breath and sweaty. “Hey!” she said happily, “Thanks for picking the smoking spot!” she lit one immediately.
The cigarette smoke would help mask many of the chemical sensors, while Keith surreptitiously placed what appeared to be a pager on the table while simultaneously setting up his laptop. The little pager would hopefully scramble all electronic surveillance, while their spot had the advantage of being an acoustic trap which distorted sound. To even a trained observed, the couple looked like friends getting together for drinks. “Honestly Coco, I still can’t see how Gordon hooked up with you.” Said Keith puzzled.
Ballantyne got that that impish, mean look of hers as she asked smiling: “What? Jealous or something?”
“Maybe just a little. But that’s not the point. I mean, you guys could not be more different people, and that’s not even counting the age difference.” He began working on his laptop.
Ballantyne raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Oh? I sense some resentment. What do you mean by ‘different’?”
“For starters, Gordon doesn’t even smoke, no drugs, he isn’t exactly the sensitive type; while you are a vegan and do weed.“
“Let’s stop the list right there, and let me clarify that I am trying to curve my recreational substance habits, I now only smoke when stressed-out and I haven’t been vegan since you guys started having me over for Dino Bar-B-Que. I also would not be doing this kind of work if I had stayed a pacifist.” She pointed out emphatically. “As for us being so different, I think I deserved a break from the Boy-Band types and went for a real man.”
“Which brings us to why we are in this corporate purgatory. Pezuto gave this job to you! I am only along because Gordon was worried and sent me along to watch out for you.”
Instead of lashing out as she once would have done, Ballantyne tempered her response with some leadership tricks she had learned form Gordon Craghil’s dealings within the Crew. “I am sorry we put you in this spot Keith, and I know you did this as a favor to Gordon, if not for Ms. Pezuto. But we are both here for the same reason, we share affection for the same person, even if we do so in different ways.” She said looking at Keith straight in the eye. “As a matter fact, I am the one who is jealous. Sometimes I think Gordon might care more about you guys than he ever will about me! I am just a hot lay he got lucky with!”
It worked. Keith paused working on his laptop, looking crestfallen. “Well, that’s not fair to you either Coco. Gordon tore apart half a city trying to rescue you from those cultists. And that was back when you guys weren’t even an item.”
“He would do the same for any of you and more.”
“Of course! But then, the Crew’s family! You weren’t even on the roster when he did that. He will go out of his way to save a stranger, but not to the lengths he went for you, and a few in the Crew were wondering if we would have to include you in the family, even if you work for Pezuto.”
“I guess I will have to be patient, and hope I am not just a man’s passing fancy. I don’t expect to be accepted just because I sleep with Craghill. I just hope you will at least give me a shot.”
“I guess we will have to wait and see.”
“In the meantime, that doesn’t change we are stuck here and might as well get the job done, what are you doing there?”
“I am fed up with this place. I inserted a search program to locate the grid’s main data base and upload the relevant data to my laptop. We should have all we need by midnight and can then skip town!” said Keith with some fierce satisfaction.
“Isn’t that kind of risky?”
Keith only shrugged, “It will trigger some alarms, but by the time they locate the source coming from my terminal, we will long be gone.”
“Good, because I heard something at aerobics class. I found they have just moved a Cyber Khan into the underground silo at the Plant. They have been sending security teams to nearby towns to ‘search for survivors’ but mostly to raid and scavenge. The Robot’s for Lawton, given the fact there was reported T-Morph activity.”
“When is the raid scheduled?”
“Dunno. Maybe a schedule will turn up in the download, but it should be soon, as they have flown in a Shinobi Team as well.”
“Then let’s go.”
“Not yet. I have to meet with some people after midnight.”
“That’s after curfew! We’ll be picked up! I say vamoose after the download.”
“We can’t. These people I am meeting have scientists and executives who want to get off Cred-Slavery. They will have more data than any download!”
“That’s cutting it kind of close.”
“You said we would have plenty of time before they found out!”
“I wanted a margin of safety, and we only get it if we leave before midnight!”
“Well, I have to stay. Besides, Gordon would have wanted me to try and rescue as many people as possible and frankly, if these folks still have the guts to stand up to a Monster like UberCorp, we might need them on our side!”
“I don’t know… we need to talk to Gordon about this. They’ve been camped at the Prairie all this time and – “
“Then call him while we talk with the people!”
“But what if the Crew mobilizes? I have to be at the Gear Jammer!”
“I am sure Pavel will be all right handling it with Hannah’s help. Besides, don’t you guys now have teams of Sapients helping you now?”
“You mean those monkeys?”
“Correct term is Sapient Apes.”
“They are not great with electronics…”
“Don’t worry, we will be out in time! Let’s go.”
As the couple left, they failed to notice one of the mannequin guards follow them with its glassy eyes.
Next week: part 2 “THE DIRTY CREW”