Short Story – The World Thereafter #1

17 Jul

Reading Neuromancer after a Phil K Dick binge, and George suggested this whole story a day thing. So, I’m going to try this cyber-punk-y thing, and super double promise to keep writing it.

—————————————————————————————–

It’s a cold night in Afghanistan. Occa places two coins on the eyes of a dead man he knew once. The etched face of some long forgotten matriarch shines in profile. He sits on his haunches, flechette rifle slung over his shoulder. Two compatriots look over the road from their place on the rocky hill. He spills some gasoline from his flask over his comrade and the desert brush packed around him. The man, once called Yoki, lies with a gaping mess for a stomach. Two hours ago a sniper punched a hole in a wall they were using for cover, the bullet passing through the mudbrick and exploding into a cluster of wire-based shrapnel. He died for ten minutes.

That was the surreal nature of a war with no direction and no objective. The safest place to be after Yoki’s stomach exploded in a cloud of red and white bone was right next to him behind that wall. The sniper took his shot and moved on.

It used to be that the senselessness tore an equally terrifying hole in Occa. Standing still as chaos swirled about him was too much to take. The flask which he now used to carry fuel once served its traditional purpose, and he would booze for days in some dark hole in the ground, weeping himself to sleep and too alone to continue.

That time is over, he thought, as he set the pyre aflame and the party prepared to move out. Through a thick beard he watches his friend burn and forgets about him as the hyperactive atoms wrap around and consume him. Humanity abandoned him a long time ago, but he finally got over the loss.

***

After 9/11 America found itself in an outland war it couldn’t quit. Like the great empires of the world before it, auxiliaries were needed to combat the growing opposition rising up against the world power. It wasn’t long before most of Western Europe and North America identified with each other, and the concept of America dissolved into the more soluble concept of the First World. Rather than East vs West the war came to a head as the First World made pre-emptive war on the Third World.

Technology was unable to provide a foothold, as the very foundations on which the First World was founded became its linchpin. Once extracted by a global economy, attack helicopters were being shot down consistently by militias equipped with state of the art weaponry bought wholesale.

In 2671 nobody knows why they’re fighting. Some claim and shout, but motives and ideology are lost in the senseless death and war that propagates itself across a planet of some twelve billion. The First World exists only as a moral ideology, and the Third World seems an ironic stamp plastered on a world that knows only war.

***

Kabul was a dangerous place to be at night. The city never slept, and Pashtuns patrolled constantly — but at night they took more liberties with their enforcement. The party kept their heads down under the shadows of their cowls as they walked the tightly packed streets under the neon glows of shop signs and mesmerizing flashes of string-lights strobing above in a braided network. Here and there the strings hung down like snakes pouring into the crowd where a mortar shell had broken the netting on some previous day.

Flechettes were cheap enough — the locals called the rifles “Junkers”, as flechettes could be pressed from any spare metals that could be scrounged from a battlefield. These days it was hard to find a full magazine of 7.62 rounds, especially if they weren’t previously fired. Spraying a field of hot metal at someone was less accurate to be sure, but immeasurably cheaper. Still, there was a manufacturing process that involved enough work to warrant tradesmen. There was no choice, Occa knew, but to enter Kabul to restock.

Without Yoki there were just the three of them, Occa joined by an old Carpathian sharpshooter who went by Felix and a Turk he had met in Kunduz who insisted at just “The Turk”. Occa dropped the “The” to his chagrin. He was a romantic and reminded Occa of bad times. But he had a good mind for staying alive, so he stayed.

His contact in the market was Tennyson. They paid him a member’s fee of whatever a-thebaine they could find in a month in exchange for an open door policy. A-thebaine was an after-market opiate that most of the runners around Kabul stimmed on. It ensured the dealer that they stayed near Kabul in return for sustainability. And here, in this place, sustainability means staying alive.

As they made their way to the basement suite that Tennyson called home, a bunch of Pashtun troublemakers eyed them from the back of an old white pickup. A red triangle was painted on the passenger side door, which meant they were probably looking for Tajiks to cut up. But at night anyone could be a Tajik if they needed to be.

It was too late before Occa realized this was a roadblock. Turk reached for his junker, but a lanky man under a turban had a 47 pointed at him before he could unsling. Who knew if he actually had any bullets in the thing — there were more AKs floating around than bullets. But you couldn’t be so sure.

“Any AT on you tonight, Occa, my friend?” said a man whose face was covered in an absurdly ancient face mask. It was the sort of thing a knight would wear; his eyes visible through a crying-face facade of rusted iron. His name was Zemar, “The Lion of Kabul”. He was one of those Pashtun fuckers who still thought the Taliban gave a shit. Really he just liked slicing throats, fucking, and getting high. Sometimes he liked to do all three at once. Street level.

Occa threw a bag full of pressed blue pads into the dirt, which one of the Pashtuns retrieved while Zemar stood and stared with his hands behind his back. Smug as all hell. Behind him Felix was getting uncomfortable, counting the men with guns as the street bustled about them. The sight of guns drawn wasn’t enough to stop commerce. Felix had TX-10s the Soviet’s had forcefully installed during his time in an army auxiliary unit; synthetic eyes that worked more or less like camera lenses. Strangely enough, they were a hell of a lot cheaper than giving troops binoculars — chiefly because you could re-sell the old eyes.

Occa would have appreciated a warning before the bloodshed started. Felix started to put his hands in the air, as if surrendering, producing an annoyed face-scrunching from the skinny man in the truck, who moved his barrel from Turk’s chest to his. In his left hand he held a modified flashbang which he threw straight-armed from a clenched fist into the back of the truck. As the lenses in his eyes closed the grenade detonated, showering the skinny man in a gratuitous shower of white phosphorous after a terrible shriek and a flash.

While the skinny man scrambled to pick the burning metal from his face, Turk fired one round into the man picking up the thebaine, the spray flashing past Occa’s chest and smattering through the top of his head. He dropped like a sack and Occa jammed his elbow into The Lion, picking up the stash and running into the crowd. The Turk shot another round into the masked man’s kneecap before disappearing into the stream of shoppers.

As they ran they could hear the white truck’s engine coming to life. But they would never find them in the crowd, and Occa knew his way around this district better than anyone. After shirking for a couple of blocks they stood in front of an old adobe building that was only distinguishable from the other huts by its cellar door and two armed guards.

He held out the bag of AT and one of the men slung his weapon and bent down to rap on the cellar door.

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