Dystopian Life


Adam Schoelz

Photo by Asa Lory
These stories are about a dystopia set in Alaska in the near future where corporate word is law. One is from the perspective of a cynical but well-paid corporate mercenary, and the other the musings of an anti-corporate rebel.

DO NO HARM – Mercenary
They approached the village from the fields south in the valley, the tall pines on the mountainsides making a swishing sound from the wind like a river. The fields were farms, but in the winter they lay fallow save for the spare bale of hay, and those were sparsely dispersed. There was a lot of land here, Proffit thought, but the rocks jutting out of the mountains and the rocks he kept tripping on told him that land didn’t necessarily mean food. The hamlet didn’t look like it. Some rusted farming equipment lay outside a ring of rundown two-story houses, with two barns at the top of the valley right against the slopes leading up to a pass.
Everything was covered in snow – the pass, undeniably, was blocked – and the mechs and soldiers stuck out like black beetles, leaving mud tracks on the bleached white world. Proffit supposed they could’ve worn some sort of camouflage, but half their job was intimidation and part of that was the audacity to march up a whole valley unopposed. They had walked maybe half a mile up the valley, all in the open as a sign of good faith, when there was movement in the village.
“Hey, we got movement,” one of the advance scouts said. There were troopers about a hundred yards ahead of the column, and James couldn’t recognize his voice. It might’ve been … Rick. Rick was new.
“Yeah, yeah, watch ’em,” James ordered. “I want two guns on them but I don’t want you to shoot. We’re here on a –” he gritted his teeth at the idiocy of it “– peace mission. But by all means, return fire if fired upon.”
“You got it.”
They marched again in silence, but James watched the houses carefully now for muzzle flashes. He didn’t really get the point of giving away food, as the poor didn’t like Tricom as a rule. One too many slaughters, he supposed. And if Pyramidion got here first – well, weapons couldn’t save these people – nothing could – but they could kill some of his soldiers.
The column was held up briefly just short of the town when one of the soldiers drove a mech into a mud pit and got stuck and, for a moment, Proffit was terrified they would be caught in a firefight in the open against covered houses, down a mech. But then the moment passed and they continued marching toward the houses. The advance scouts were already there.
They marched right into the village square – six mechs, twelve troopers. It was an impressive display of force for such a puny town, and James hoped it would be enough to dissuade any would-be freedom fighters.
But there was no fire. Nothing, in fact, except a few flakes of snow beginning to fall from the stony sky. Proffit turned to the advance scouts.
“Hey, where was that movement?”
“Uh … it looked like somebody was coming back to the village from … the west? He was maybe 500 yards away, it was hard to get a bead on him.”
“Clear the west three houses.”
The troopers nodded and trotted out to the westernmost house in the ring and stacked up next to the door. They cracked open the next three houses like eggshells, turning over tables, ripping sheets off beds, opening the occasional bureau. James didn’t have to see it, and he took off his helmet to light up a smoke, watching the soldiers scurry from house to house, empty handed.
Strange. People weren’t just hiding in their houses. They were gone. He had seen people abandon their homes fairly readily in the lower 48 and sometimes in Africa, but in Alaska, running away in winter was generally ill-advised. They were all dead, he realized suddenly. Frozen. He felt it in his bones.
The soldiers found a man in the basement of the third house.
He was incredibly skinny and badly in need of a shave. Maybe late twenties, early thirties, it was hard to tell. His clothes were baggy and old, and by the way they hung Proffit could tell two things: the man was almost dead from malnutrition and cold, and he was utterly defeated. His head hung like a beaten dog before James, who towered over him in armor. Hell, he would probably tower over him without armor – the guy was made out of sticks or something.
“What’s your name?” James asked, using his polite tone.
“Name’s Gramondy, sir.”
“Gramondy? What kinda name is that?”
“My father’s name.”
“Alright, then, Gramondy. What happened here?”
The man paused, pursed his lips and looked up at the mechs.
“Well, if you don’t mind me saying, they saw you coming.”
Right, so that had been it. The column had to have been visible for hours, they wouldn’t come back, and those that weren’t dead by exposure now would be in a couple hours. Maybe one family had a cabin up on the mountain. Whatever, stupid peacekeeping mission failed. All it accomplished was scaring some poor farmers into an early grave. Literally.
“Alright Gramondy, we got it. Why’d you stay?”
“I, uh, I wanted to see the mechs up close, sir.”
“Christ, the mechs up close?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well did you?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And did they put the fear of God in you?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Alrighty then. See those crates on the back of ’em?” Proffit pointed to the packages magnetized on the mechs. “Those are food. Take two.”
At his word, two of the enormous crates from the nearest mech dropped into the snow. Gramondy’s eyes widened and his mouth opened and closed like some ugly hairy fish and he stammered a thanks before running off to hug the crates. Proffit followed him, hands clasped behind his back.
“Anyone else in the other houses, Gramondy?”
“Maybe sir, thankyousir. I honestly don’t know.”
“Good enough, I guess. We’ll drop another crate, that should last you and anyone else still here until spring.”
James turned away and walked back towards the end of the ring of houses. His helmet off, he could see his breath frosting and feel his ears developing frostbite. He threw his cigarette into the snow and set his helmet down, and in a sudden moment of playfulness tried to catch a snowflake on his tongue. He couldn’t.
It was ridiculous, he thought. The whole premise was ridiculous. That people they’d only recently been trying to kill would want food from them. He picked up the heavy helmet again and weighed it in his hands for a moment, then slipped it over the crown of his head. Back to it.
“–so nothing good in the first three houses, booze in the fourth, some books or something in the sixth.” someone was saying over comms.
“This is a peacekeeping mission. No looting.” James said flatly. “Jesus, especially not food. Or whatever alcohol counts as.”
“Uh, yes sir.” the voice returned. “We were uh, just inventorying the contents of the houses. Due to the lack of personage, sir.”
“Right, of course. We’re moving out, next village. Whoever this is, you’re on point.”
“Ah man.”
It was Rick. Stupid kids.
They were sitting on an oil train to what remained of Nome and the winter winds whipped around the car but on the inside for once at least they were warm.
It would not be for long.
The rebels were rebels – gritted teeth, ratty clothes, dirty faces. They crouched in the train like rats clutching rifles and tried to stay below the doors that would automatically open when they arrived at their destination, hurtling at a hundred miles an hour towards Nome. They were packed in the train car almost like horses in a cattle trailer and every bump on the tracks sent one stumbling into the other.
Two of them lay flush against the door about a head and a half above the rest. Both were men with grizzled beards, one sleeping on the other’s shoulder. The one who was awake stared out at the snow fields as the countryside passed by. Suddenly, a landmark.
“God, man, wake up,” he hissed to his compatriot.
“Mmm? What? Are we there?”
“About, or somewhere thereabouts. We’re past Old Station, so it’s going to be a half hour. Wake the others.”
“Azrael, we’re ready,” they called from down below.
Azrael’s eyebrows raised in quiet surprise that they stayed awake as he had ordered them but he didn’t take his eyes off of the liquid landscape. They were drawing near now, and although his breathing was steady his knuckles were white around the grip of his carbine. The train began to slow down.
They were to perpetrate a terrorist attack. Azrael knew this was the case no matter how much their leaders said it was justice, a strike against the corporations. They were attacking Tricom but it didn’t matter really, because they had rifles and a bomb and it didn’t really matter who lay on the other end when you had rifles and a bomb.
They were free men, though. That had been the mistake, to allow themselves freedom, and they had been stomped by those who cared not for it. The corps and the AFT did nothing for the free men because freedom to them was a lie. So the men and women who had escaped their nets and their snake-oil promises of safety had banded together and found that to beat a tyrant one must accept some tyranny.
They passed the broken New Station and entered into Nome, the ruins of that city that remained after it had been burned over and over and its citizens burned with it. It was an empty husk of a town, a war zone  where Tricom and Pyramidion fought eternally over rail yards and shipping depots. And now they were in it.
The train slowed and shuddered to a halt. No one breathed. All the rebels had trained but there was nothing, Azrael knew, like facing death for the first time. The doors slid open then and like water the rebels rose up and over the edge of the train car and found themselves ensconced in silent snow. It was cold again.
By Adam Schoelz