by Travis Mateer
I’ve teased this future fiction a few times, and now, here it is, and it’s NOTHING like Harmon’s Histories because this, friends, is BILLY’S BEYOND!
General Wooten and the New Cascadian army have shocked King Pengen by invading Montana from the south, rapidly moving up the former highway 93 corridor. Wooten’s forces, currently pausing at Traveler’s Rest, are preparing to make the final push into the Zula valley. King Pengen’s options are sparse.
“Damn it, Von Wussberg! You assured me Wooten’s scoundrels would never take the risk of an incursion, especially from the south!” Pengen slams his cyborg fist upon the rustic oak roundtable in the Big Sky room where the preparatory contingency planning had obviously been all for naught. Von Wussberg shrinks back toward the grand panoramic window now steel’d over with crude welding scars. Amateur haste.
“I was told the men from the Rattlesnake enclave and University holdout neighborhoods didn’t even mount a defense. They took their rifles and fled to the hills to join the irregulars.”
“Unacceptable! Have you frozen their digital food credits? Have you yanked their antigen updates from the nano-swarm? WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO PROTECT THE REALM, WUSSBERG?!?”
“Sir, I, uh, I’ve taken some liberties to deploy a plan B of sorts.” The pause is punctuated by the whirring gears of King Pengen’s mechanical eye as it audibly zooms in to scrutinize the beads of sweat forming on Von Wussberg’s brow.
“What SORT of plan B have you concocted without my knowledge or approval, Wussberg? I only allow for this sort of individuating away from the hive mind if it works. Will it work?”
“I don’t know if it will work, but I had to try something. The realm isn’t buying the leaflet barrage anymore, and our best narrative wizard is in a deep depression after their child slave succumbed to the pinches.”
“Yes, I’m aware of the restlessness spreading among the stacks. Can’t we find the Grand Martel another child slave to inspire their calming mind tales? I can’t have a local insurrection ON TOP OF General Wooten’s advances. DAMN IT, THIS BETTER BE GOOD, WUSSBERG!” Wussberg nods nervously while keeping his head bowed and eyes averted from the raging assemblage of flesh and metal that comprises the once mortal Mayor.
“Sir, I went to consult an ancient text in that shining jewel to your GREATNESS, the Library Defense League Center, for a special recipe. Do you remember the scourge of amphetamine abuse that plagued your fair realm before you transmuted into your current glorious form?”
“Yes, Von Wussberg, I do. I remember the madness of those times quite well.” Pengen pauses, gears whirring, as he accesses deeper files of memory in his data banks. “I remember much opposition before the GTO (Great Turning Off) plunged our world into darkness for those many months of uncertainty and fear. No one knows how many perished during those dark times.”
“Yes, well, I took the chemical recipe to our water extractor engineers and, although it took a few tries, and killed a fair number of pigs, we have achieved an acceptable batch of what the street gangs used to call “meth” and it’s currently being distributed to the Wolf Boyz in the Broadway Zone.”
Von Wussberg risks a glance upward from his perpetually bowed countenance and is relieved to the core to see King Pengen approximating what, for his flacid face and encroaching optical machinery, appears to be a smile.
“I am pleasantly surprised, Vonny. How quickly can you round up the women folk? It’s been ages since we gave Merc-Ville a good gorgy. That should build up enough credit in my off-books account to buy their protection if I have to fallback to The Bunker, AND it will teach those Rattlesnake/University pussies a valuable lesson in loyalty.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll get the trashmen to prepare the offering. Anything else?”
King Pengen ruminates for a few long seconds before letting out a long sigh. “Yes, tell the scamper out front I’m almost ready for The Gwendra to feed. My recovery has been completed for this cycle.”
“As you wish, sir.”
And with that, Ryan Von Wussberg exits the chamber before the ringing of the bell because no mere mortal is EVER allowed to view the The Gwendra’s feeding ritual. All Von Wussberg knows is this: if her strange abilities fall to the influence of General Wooten and the New Cascadian Army, all is lost for Zula.
An apropos (I think) addendum to your wonderful story:
I was speaking to a clerk the other day (a clerk for the last 40 years here in Msla). He stated that when he started clerking in the 80’s he never meant it to be permanent. By the 90’s he was in a comfort zone and wanted to keep doing it for various reasons. He admitted he knew he would never get rich, would worry about health insurance and would have to rely on SS for retirement. But he had made his peace with that – he could afford an apartment, a vehicle and lived by his own schedule.
Flash forward 20 years (the Engen years); he is still a clerk. His 40+ hour/week paycheck no longer matches civic expenses, he has been evicted twice in a year (as landlords want to renovate towards VRBO). The last thing he told me was that this no longer feels like Missoula; it is Missoula in name only.
We half heartedly joked that the current City leadership will likely change the City’s name. I do believe, as your fiction suggests, that we will see “Missoula” nominally morph into something more JEDI. And, given the present and future, it probably should. “Missoula” should reside in memory only.