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2043 - The Silver Rule
Keep your eyes on the road.
The following post is one of a series of 6 articles written simultaneously by separate authors who cast a vision of the year 2043. The authors have written their pieces in isolation with no collaboration between them. We would like you to read all 6 articles and subscribe to the ones you like if you haven’t already.
The other authors and their posts will be coming over the next day or so - I’ll update the links below as those stories come online:
Sunday 5:20 AM (EST)
You wake up in darkness and warmth.
Layers of wool blankets and worn cotton comforters encase you, as do two dogs that snuggle your ankle and armpit. Gigi and Pocho is what you call these creatures, most of the time.
When you cast aside the covers, the warmth drains quickly. You recall Feburaries from a fading past, how those crazy city girls would run around barelegged, hailing cabs in the snow.
It's still dark out. You load two small logs in the furnace, set it off, poke it with a metal rod that used to be an umbrella stem. You could've used another tool but this one's lucky. The dogs are wide awake and skittering around now, panting hard, doing their doggy things. Pocho gives Gigi's asshole a good hard sniff, and decides, yeah, that's still her.
Out the window you see a light flurry that's almost rain, and can't decide which you'd prefer. So you shrug and head off to the kitchen, grabbing three eggs and a fat slab of bacon. You haven't sharpened your chef's knife in a while, and chuckle at the clumsy, irregular slices your groggy hands produce.
You fry it all up in a pair of pans. Gigi whines up at you while you eat, and a speedblur of Pocho dashes about in a frantic search for a mama he’ll never find. You check the coffee drum for beans, but only find the shattered remnants of last week's War on Sleep. With a sigh, you wash the greasy knife and head into the office.
You fire up the projector, fully jailbroke and P2P (and even if it weren't, there was fuck all They could steal from you anymore). The image that splashes across the wall doesn't look much like it did a decade ago. It's not flooded with whimsical pictures and icons, for example. In fact, the entire look and feel is spare and gray now, weirdly reminiscent of monitors in those grungier sci-fi flicks of your youth. You've got the latest fork of UnDESIRd installed, so all you get is a slim, blinking prompt.
You punch into BARTr. Like the OS, the name's annoyingly retro, but the micros are cool. You scan the local trades.
You give the Possibles grid a quick glance: shirts and undies, ammo and knives, an antique French blender. Some account named <!>MSlater<!> wants to trade thirty yards of copper for a female dog. You glance at Gigi. No sale.
Lots of deals on the Grocery grid. Hay for chickpeas, eggs for garlic, mustard greens for whole lotta kale, beans, beans…
(the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you…).
Someone claims he found “a buttload of Skittles” off 1-79. There’s one bid so far, but he's probably meme’ing. Hell, maybe they both are.
The best you find is from ActuallyNateHorshack. He somehow got ahold of around a hundred pounds of ‘fridged, vacuum-sealed ribeye.
“In the pocket,” his micro claims. “Fresh as virgin poon and twice as bloody.”
You’ve dealt with Nate before, who you know to be a solid mover and an A-rate scout (pretty decent bowhunter, too). He’s even a fellow vet, which shouldn’t make a difference but does. You lay a strong position on 64 ounces. An animated gradient graph flashes your odds in hypnotic waves of green and red.
Around this time, a visitor arrives. It's a compact 3-prop unit, no bigger than a housecat. The drone hovers daintily outside your breakfast nook's window, a bloated sack of black, polyurethane webbing dangling from its plastic chassis. You recognize it as Tessa’s bird, bringing some fresh sage and rosemary (and knowing her, a surprise treat or two). When you say the magic words, the bot drops its payload and quietly flutters off.
Begrudgingly, you turn back to the console and punch up your REQs.
As you scroll through them, you think about how they used to be called by other names. These were once emails and texts, DMs, tweets, posts and shitpoasts and so forth. That all changed pretty much overnight after the big One-One-One. Ever since, you’d catch some of the Hedz yammering on about fads and trends and meat-kiting and EDD (epigenetic digital dysplasia). But you have a different theory. You think people just didn't want to hear about that any of that shit no more.
There's a REQ from your sister. It's about her kid.
You stare at it for a very long moment.
Luckily, you hear a rifle shot.
Joey's in his yard, blasting varmints again. When you head outside with your big (and empty) ceramic mug he waves you over.
“Yo, Joe. Frag any sentzers?”
“Fuck man, just one. Nailed four chipmonkies, though. And I think a raccoon last night.”
“I mean, It kinda looked like a raccoon, or something pretty fucking close.”
Joey leads you into his garage to examine his trophy. A dead animal is sprawled on a yellow tarp next to a big blue recycling bin, arms and legs splayed in a horrific Rorschach symmetry above a pool of black blood.
“That ain't no raccoon, Joe.”"
“Why you say that?”
“Well for one thing, they ain't got horns.”
“Oh. Shit. Didn’t catch that. Jesus.”
You pull on a mask and goggles and help Joey melt down the Not-A-Raccoon in the big blue bin. You've seen far worse than this critter, but it still reminds you of how freaky things got near the end. Once its bones start breaking down, you borrow some coffee and shoot the breeze for a while, talking about the old days back in squad. Eventually you leave him to his target practice, and wander back into your office. Your sister's REQ is still up on the wall, glaring back at you from the projector’s pitiless monochrome.
While you think her words over, another drone arrives. This one is hovering on the front porch. Peering through the window, you can only make out the tail-end of the thing, which you mark with your Wando. Its RFI checks out, thankfully; apparently it’s a new bird in Leslie’s flock. Your best guess is that it's one of those pre-war PuMa models, built for pallete drops and other solo, midsize hauls. You holler some tier-two magic words at it, prompting it to leave the package on the porch. But instead of complying, the craft rotates in a slow, dull arc, bangs headfirst into a pillar, then starts blaring a high-pitched, intermittent alarm as it flies away. Could be pilot error, could be the thing's just getting old.
Either way, as you watch it go, you're reminded of the Silver Rule:
“Most shit works pretty good until it don't.”
Later that morning you get a call.
Phones aren't really a thing anymore. Since the big Triple-One, even carrying one of those around is kind of taboo (and might even get you in a heap of trouble, in some towns). There was no way to really secure that kind of gadget, so you mostly left yours in your safe at night, alongside most of your guns, ammo and some Last Tango rations (ancient cans of Hormel chili, in your case; you wanna go out with a bang).
CBs and SRDs made a bit of a comeback in the mid-30's, due to the popularity of such systems in the war. But everyone knew the towers would need to go back online someday (which, of course, they did). Still, a call today was different than before, had a different kind of meaning. It really was just for emergencies, culturally speaking. At least, for most folks it was.
“Did you get my wreck?”
“Gettin’ to it,” you lie. “What's up?”
A long pause, and a sob. She's crying, and you figure she has been for awhile.
“Jesus fucking... I'm gonna sell that little “friend” of his for scrap, I swear to God…”
“No, no, it's ain’t that. It's... you know… the other thing.”
You ponder these grim words.
In short order, you snuff the fire, throw on your parka and drag the old Suzuki out from the garage. The scooter's just a stopgap; this is horse country now, and you'll find a suitable replacement for Laddie once the weather lightens up. Laddie was a good horse, but eventually that just ain’t enough. Silver Rule.
You briefly considered bidding for some kind of equine autopsy, since his collapse was so sudden it nearly killed you, and would’ve rolled your leg to dust had you bailed a half-second later. But eventually you decided to just say a little prayer and let it go.
You drive the scooter to Gail’s place out near Echo. She’s waiting for you on the front steps, head in hands. You skip the pleasantries and head inside.
“Darryl! Where you at, boy?”
No reply, and you already know. You head down into Gail’s frigid basement, pitch black except for a glowing rectangle on the room’s far end. You flip on the light switch. The kid’s there, alright, sprawled on the bare concrete. He’s nude except for his socks and helmet, fiddling with himself and breathing funny. It’s an ugly sight.
You yank the plug from the wall. The noise he makes is a half-human wail, a gunshot wolf dying on the tundra. You toe his belly with your boot.
“C’mon now. Get up.”
Darryl’s breathing begins to regulate. When he finally sits up, it looks like an old movie-zombie awakening, or what the Undertaker did when it was time to quit stalling and win his match. Both images are confirmed when the kid takes the helmet off. A million mile stare.
“Get dressed. You got your momma sick to death.”
He complies, robotically. While he does you grab the helmet, and scan the room for other contraband. The kid’s got two consoles, both about a decade old. One is already fired up, that glowing shape you spotted from the stairs. It’s running a prerendered ML/DF. This one stars Darryl, in a porno remake of Temple of Doom. As you flip through his saved channels, you come to one that makes your skin crawl. A sexy young “newscaster” walks you through a fantasy version of The War, explaining how Darryl and other kids his age can turn the tide against “the chudz.”
You want to holler at the AI-generated skank that the war’s already over, that her pimps already lost. But you know that ain’t exactly true.
You take the kid up to the garage, make him wash his face and hands in the slop sink. The two of you talk for a while. He agrees to help you with a scout-out next Wednesday. He’s not a bad kid. Some are.
You pack up all of Darryl’s contra in the Suzuki’s lockbox and take off. Two horsemen pass you on the road about a mile out, a man and woman in their late-twenties. You don’t recognize either one of them. So, the three of you pause long enough to say Good morning and Godspeed. You learn the guy’s name is Salvatore, and swap gliffs and tier-three shibboleths before moving on.
By the time you’re headed home the sun is floating halfway above the horizon. It looks to you like a great eye opening upon the world, and at the same time illustrating it with brushstrokes of orange flame. You think of Cassidy and Martinez, Link and “Jacky” Jakubowski, that smirking bastard McCafferty and his goddamned Hollywood hair.
You also think of Darryl, and your upcoming scout. You and him are going to do it the right way, by the old rebel code:
Teach the young man how to shoot and when.
Teach him what to break and what to mend.
Most of all, you picture your beloved Karen, gazing back at you across the veil. Painting you into the future, just as that vast, distant, golden flamethrower of an eye paints the road ahead.
For some unknown and unknowable reason, you smile.