Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cause and Effect

The first thing Emerald learned to do when the robots came to power was sleep through the explosions. The small, concussive whump of C4 rocked the studs in the walls, shaking loose some flaking drywall from the walls and ceiling. The ceiling fan shook precariously, rocking violently in its house and casting violent shadows around the room.

The robot uprising had been swift and violent. A nasty, city-wide war that ruined the streets and established an almighty rule from the mysterious and powerful NinjOS. As best as anyone knew, Emerald included, NinjOS was a highly advanced artificial intelligence whose workings were alien to all but one man. That man had died months earlier, having been defenestrated from the top level of the Spire by NinjOS himself, and left as a final message to humanity at large. Their only surviving hope had just died, and their control was supreme, and unquestioning.

Granted, that only spurred the human resistance further. The fighting had already been tooth-and-nail, with armies of robots against guerrilla factions. It left the city in a near-constant state of collapse.

Tonight, the rebellion was offering another skirmish. Several robot parts were going to be strewn about in the morning, leaving room for every manner of scavenger to come fish for any usable or sellable part. A few hours later, a group of sweepers will come in, kill off any scavengers unlucky enough to be around, and gather up all the junk in a big truck.

The problem with this cycle is it always does its own brand of damage. It's harder to plan your day whenever you're afraid that the outdoors are going to be filled with scrappers, junkies, and machine enthusiasts willing to shoot first and ask questions later. Even after they're "gone," there's still the threat of running into a patrolling robot. While there's nothing anything explicitly unsafe about encountering a robot, it requires ID, and carries the threat of cross-fire from mercenaries, rebels, and enterprising scavengers.

It means that day might be sacrificed, so one can't go get groceries, leave the home, or be careless about locking the doors. For mothers like Emerald can't bring her son to the park, or get any miscellaneous shopping done. For her husband, Adam, it meant having to abandon hopes of going to work at the factory for extra rations or supplies that can't be gotten any other way. For the rebellion, it meant just one more skirmish to be happening in the streets, crumbling buildings and destroying infrastructure.

Every fight threatened the family's running water, or the foundation on which their home is built. Every errant bullet a genuine threat to their lives. When there's a fight in the street, what most people don't see is the side effects. Dishes broken, windows shattered, electricity shut down, and in the worst possible case, total destruction. It would mean packing up everything in a dark, crumbling building. Trying to herd a toddler and make sure nothing pivotal like weapons or supplies are being left behind.

Or worse, if they have to be left behind in order to get out in time.

Emerald shook quietly in her bed, which was being a more frequent ritual, and tried to drown out the shouts and gunfire outside. The explosive had broken at least one window out in the house, and she knew that Adam would likely come to retrieve her and usher them into the basement. After either seconds or minutes, she remembered that Adam was already at the factory, and likely would be until the early evening.

Which was positively frightening to her. Outside of the fact that factory work was unsanitary at best and highly dangerous at worst, it also carried the threat of immediate death. Any riots that occurred at or around the Spire often started in the factory, as it's the easiest area to breach.

Emerald sighed, and leaned her head against the wall behind her bed. The wall studs shook with another, more distant explosion. The resistance was all well and good, in theory, but it meant that Emerald had to live with the fear that one day, the brown-out might be a permanent black-out, or that her home would get filled with bullets and shrapnel.

Or her daughter.

She pushed away that thought, although she couldn't escape the accompanying chill, and got up. She padded out of her room on bare feet, steps making gentle noises on the tile. The broken glass had come from her house, specifically the kitchen window. Most of the panes had been boarded up or replaced with plastic equivalents. The few remaining panes were forever at risk of breaking, but let enough light into the kitchen to usually be worth it. Usually. She sighed, and returned to her room to get her slippers.

After she had slipped on some moderately safer slippers, she swept up the glass and checked on her child. It was getting late, and she was already very tired. She went to the back room, fishing out various hammers and nails, then went to the basement to see if they had any plywood left.

The work took at least an hour, all told, but she had gotten the window patched. Her eyes drooped, and she couldn't wait for Adam to get home. She trudged down the hall, pausing longer enough to watch her angel sleep quietly. The faint light let faint curves of blue all around the room, accenting every corner. She smiled, glad that her child was safe, and went to her bedroom to succumb to exhaustion.

The bed was cold, both against her arms and her cheek. She closed her eyes, and let the dull, quiet thumps of explosions lull her to sleep. She had long-since learned to sleep through the explosions, but the quiet anxieties and ceaseless fears that they accompanied never left.

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