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Everything Explodes – SciFi News Network, 2041

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(Original appearance: 25 April 2017 on my Patreon page)

NO GLORY

A syndicated conflict blog

Rose L. Parimoo

Everything Explodes

 

04 May 2041*

It does, you know. Everything does explode. The sheer carnage one sees here, day and night, is amazing. Is amazing the right word? Yes and no. Amazing, horrific, awful and awe-inspiring in a sad and pathetic and scandalous and phantasmagorically grievous sort of way. It’s beyond words, really. But here we are in a medium of words. So.

Soldiers bearing the marks of frantically rushed training and gear bearing the marks of hasty 3D printing flood in daily, and daily the Hadesbots drag off as many, give or take a little, to bulldozed pits or even tumble them into a convenient natural ravine. Dead, destroyed, consumed by the appetite of the war.

The vultures are so sleek and fat I’m amazed they can still fly. That’s a good thing in a disgusting and depressing sort of way.

It makes the fake vultures easy to spot. The exploding drone vultures are normal looking, even a bit gaunt.

That ease of identification doesn’t stop the soldiers and defense bots (and all of the civilians, who, after all, are equally opposed to dying) from shooting down every vulture they can shoot. And any other bird they spy, for that matter. They’re all suspect.

Everyone, that is, but the smattering of American medics. They are strictly unarmed – not even a sidearm, not even a little one – by the terms of their surprisingly enduring cease-fire with China.

It’s an uneasy cease-fire, to be sure. But nobody wants an escalation, not even the nuclear powers or their allies who are the ones actually fighting this nakedly proxy war.

The Americans are nervous, yes. Yesterday one lost a chunk of his calf muscle to a butterfly.

A butterfly. Who expects a butterfly to explode?

Can you imagine the insanity of troops carrying state of the art smart assault rifles trying to shoot down the butterflies as they pass a field of wildflowers? Smart rifles are not made to target butterflies.

Can you imagine, then, how much ammunition a war on butterflies demands? A war on butterflies and every other threat, which is everything, because everything explodes? How many delivery drones to carry the ammunition to the soldiers who are not only engaged in killing their human and butterfly opponents, but also must kill every bird, rodent, cow, goat, chicken, snake, and insect they encounter?

If civilization ends in this war, lays fallow for ten thousand years, and is reborn, their scientists will believe an enormous asteroid made of metal struck here, because there are so many bullets scattered about after two years of this madness.

Bullets turn up in every tree passed, every latrine pit dug, every wall taken shelter behind. They glimmer in pockets all down every streambed, winking like clutches of gold nuggets. Nuggets that are stained with death. They trigger somber reflection at their discovery, not the excitement of a windfall.

The windfall we receive here is living through the day. Not only surviving the relentless drone fauna, but the snipers and the migratory landmines with their subtle borers and seismic imagers, and of surviving the threat of worse.

Every time there is a retreat of any sort, even of a single squad of soldiers, thoughts turn to the threat of nuclear annihilation. Are they clearing out so this place can be wiped smooth and radioactive?

A nuclear weapon could be aboard the great eagle I’m watching as I write this.

It’s circling a mountain peak, tracing the thermals through the sky in a crooked path that never quite retraces itself.

Eight of the nations embroiled here, directly or via proxy, are nuclear capable.

Three of those nations are known to have the capacity to custom-print nuclear warheads on only a few days’ advance notice.

Theoretically, a custom-printed subcritical nuclear bomb could fit aboard a false cow or sheep or horse. Even, perhaps, a goat or a dog.

Or one might just fit inside one of the numerous and enormous eagles that call these mountains home. It would have to spend most of its time gliding on thermals, though. Even the tiniest nuke would be heavy, and a drone eagle would have to flap unrealistically quickly and hard to gain altitude without the help of the warm air rising off the sun-warmed mountains.

As quickly as new troops are slaughtered – and they’ve grown noticeably younger and older as the demand for soldiers outstrips the human speed of reproduction – the survivors go dead-eyed and silent at the realization that there is no competence or heroics that can guard against a nuclear attack, even if one can imagine defending themself against deadly butterflies and unseen snipers.

The only defenses are to resign oneself to the inevitability of death, or to go mad.

Some do the latter. Very few of those are so obvious or dangerous to themselves and others as the movies would have you believe. It manifests, instead, in ways that choke off the humanity inside, as too-hard earth chokes off a sapling and leaves it withered.

More than any war in history, death and fear saturate the environment.

A week or two agao, a tree branch killed two men. In the shrapnel they found the joints of little robotic legs, like the legs of a centipede but made of kevlar and carbon fiber. The walking tree branch drone, a robot built around an explosive core sheathed in a titanium sleeve grooved to shatter into a thousand flying nails, had climbed into the tree and settled down to wait for a target to pass.

Nobody knows how long it waited. It could have waited mere hours, or waited two years. Subtle solar panels smaller than the scales of a trout powered it.

Is there one, or are there several perhaps, in the glarled tree beside the latrine pit I visit here in camp every day?

Has an exploding rat crept beneath my cot while I was at the latrine? Is it waiting for me to finish this bit of writing and lie down to sleep, unexpectedly forever?

Will a deadly butterfly find a gap in the mosquito netting in the morning and end me while I brush my teeth?

I’ll have to leave this place soon. I can feel myself slipping away under the constant fear that even invades my dreams.

It is worth remembering that the soldiers, those who live, lack the luxury of leaving when they feel themselves slipping slowly into madness.

I won’t survive much longer here.

Then again, nothing does.

END

*The fourth of May is only a publication date. Per my agreement with the Indian Army, I an say only that the situations I describe occurred within the past one hundred days. Details may be altered to protect individuals or operational security. The post above was required to clear Indian Army intelligence before publication. This disclaimer is required to appear here, and I am required to abide by its terms and additional terms as required by standing military orders and the orders of officers of the Army.

Flash Fiction: Under Ashes

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“Anything worth a damn is made on a coast and ships from a coast. By air or sea.”

That’s what the president said. At least, it’s what was reported on the shadow web that snakes through the makeshift network of “smart” stoves and washing machines and automobiles (if you can afford them!) and can openers and athletic shoes and disposable razors and anything else with WiFi and an app.

The authorized news, on the other hand, ran a piece on how the economy was so gloriously rampant and virile that airlines have formally discontinued coach and business class seating, leaving nothing but a spacious expanse of first class and super luxury class seating in their cavernous airliners.

The anchorbot’s perfect on-air voice floated like a cloud behind the image of an iron-haired general, her chest a solid plastron of stars and ribbons like a compacted galaxy. Her feet were up on an ottoman and a masseusebot worked the suspension bridge of corded tendons in her neck with eight-fingered silicone hands.

Then, as the anchorbot droned a lulling narrative bridge, a puffy gilded teen cherub sat with a megaplatinum record from Motherland Records on a hefty wood base with a tall glass cover occupying a seat of it own beside her. A stewbot cracked the claws of a four pound lobster with deft blurs of a little brass gavel and slid the laden tray before the starlet who tucked into the chow with a flood of melted butter.

Finally, the anchorbot burbling upbeat and drawing to a conclusion, the vid showed a man in an immaculate dark suit and bright tie. The men are always first or last, symbolic frames of the stream of words and images, carrying with them weight and importance, tangibility. The lights and vids of an array of three monitors suspended from the ceiling (the “overhead” on an airplane, is it called?) flickered gem-reflections off the heavy steel rims of harsh six-angled eyeglasses. His hair was a blond cap, waxed down like a helmet. Sideburns trimmed to stilettos stabbed the angles of his jaw in the new style I can’t get used to. A trackball in each hand, he Does Important Things for the cameras.

The images fade to the state news logo and the anchorbot climaxes and relaxes into a commercial.

We all have televisions so we can see how good things are. We may not have hot water, or even running water. We only have electricity part-time. I can’t afford the simplest drugs to treat my pre-diabetes or even aspirin for my arthritis half the time. I set snares for squirrels or I’d have nothing to go with the endless lumps of hard bread (gotta soak it in a bowl of water to eat it) and cheese the Army hands out to keep us from starving or rioting or both.

But the state provides televisions. A new one every Christmas, even if you forget to bring them the old one to trade in.

We’re doing great, dammit. We’re finally great again. The television tells us so. All the biggest world powers respect us they way they should, the announcerbots say.

Just outside the city line – I can see it from the kitchen table in this two room shack I’m blessed to share with just two other bachelors – a bot crew and one Christ of a huge fanged combine-thing, driverless and nameless, chews up the old interstate highway and loads the bits into an endless stream of self-driving dumptrucks that take the blacktop south to do God knows what with it. Thin dribs and drabs of snow float through the scene like in a snow globe, and icicles hang from the noses of the workbots. They don’t care, of course.

I hear blacktop is made from oil. Maybe they’re squeezing the oil back out of it to ship to India or China or Brazil. Those places are hungry for oil and any other resources they can get their hands on, the shadow web whispers from the WiFi toilet when I crap. Who knows if it’s true. The television doesn’t say a word about that.

But the stock market is up again, and the Air Force says Fallujah will fall again soon.

There’s going to be a celebration when it falls, next month in DC. The commercial for it is on again. It has been playing twice an hour since spring.

The commercial ends and my gaze falls on the faded cap hanging on its nail across from the window. The cap is gray now, like my hair before it fell out, but you can still see the crimson fire peek out of the deep folds of the seams like ember under ashes.

I wish I could be in DC for the celebration. To wear the cap again, pump my fist in the air and holler again. Full of power, strong like a bear. Those were the days.

But the highway has gone away, and I’m not much for walking anymore. Nobody I know is.

END

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page, 02 January 2017. My patrons get to see a lot of things early, and can get free ebooks and even paperbacks! Come help me get the hell out of this damned trailer park and into a place where I can have even a small writing office and maybe even write ALL THE TIME. Well, almost all the time. I do have kids and a wife and a cat to think of as well.)