Hollow Men: Five
When I was a kid, not quite a teenager, I had three close friends. Although we lived fairly distantly, as everybody up here does, we talked via old landlines and we made complex efforts to get together. We were almost orphans, we were woodland creatures. We had the expanse of forever that seemed to make up childhood, everyday was epochal.
We took many things seriously. Our parents may have perceived us as merely lazy, unfocused, dreaming little shits, but we were more directed, passionate, and regimented than they could've guessed. The world, to us, was really a stage for battle and violence. There were obvious allies and there were clearly enemies. And there was no possible vacillation on any issue. Middle ground and compromise was for the weak. We didn't come by these attitudes magically, it was the flavor of the time.
Our land was still an awkward appendage of CorpLand. Technically. We considered it an enemy occupation. We weren't allowed online, but we'd heard adults mention this concept. We weren't allowed online, like every other kid in the Kingdom, because the adults were afraid that our young malleable brains would be stolen and radicalized by some idea or faction. Turns out that particular medium wasn't necessary for us to reach extreme conclusions. After all, we lived in extreme circumstances and a very extreme world.
There were agents of CorpLand in town. There were farms of CorpLand in our valleys. We lived to enrich their CEOs. These representatives were grave, mortal offenses in our eyes, entitled to nothing less than the complete extent of our organized twelve year old rage. We were the heroes, they were the villains.
Our first mission was relatively minor. And its success facilitated a slide into larger actions. One night we sneaked up to the local distribution center and slashed all the tires on the charging autotrucks. I'm sure, in retrospect I'm sure, their system compensated quickly for the decrease in available shipping. But to us this was a serious blow against the mechanisms of the occupation. It made us feel powerful.
The next of our self directed missions was on a CorpLand farm. There'd already been scattered protests around this particular farm. It was automated, robots worked it. And the things grown on it were shipped out while its unemployed neighbors starved. After the protests some security elements had been brought in. But we were lithe and wily. We were covert and nearly invisible. We were not yet things that could be tracked. And we had the advantages and disadvantages of zero fear.
We circumvented their fences pretty easily, then we zip tied down what moving parts we could, we cut wires where we could reach, we spray painted over battery contacts, a few drops of epoxy here, a cup of sand there, and as much yanking, smashing, and ruination of the charging station as we could manage before we heard the incoming drones and resident security monkeys scrambling. They had cameras everywhere of course, there was never any doubt about that. We escaped but those drones got close and their stun guns were no joke. We made it into the trees. Once in the woods drones are useless and there's no way anybody would ever find us, especially CorpLand guys who grew up in The Sprawl.
The woods were ours. We had a fort we'd hammered together out of leftover plywood and planks and other discards. We put tar paper on the top. If we were away from it for more than a few days the place would be full of spiders. Which was fine by us, they were our compatriots, we even named a few. In the corner Alan The Spider opined about spider law. It was here we met to plan something really big, we thought, some action that would get occupying CorpLand out of the Kingdom for good. Alan The Spider listened patiently.
We'd done a few smaller things, routine crimes, trespassing, graffiti, bomb scares and miscellaneous acts of personal intimidation--but the time was now, we needed to punctuate our commitment.
We called ourselves Sons Of The Kingdom. Which was fairly ridiculous sounding inside a fort made of refuse, but also, in retrospect, absolutely perfect.
There were only four of us, we wanted to make it seem like there were more, what we collectively decided we'd do is split into two groups. The first would set fire to the branch office in town. The second would set fire to the distribution center.
We weren't very smart. I mean, we knew enough to understand that setting fire to something like a modern structure was not without difficulty. But we didn't think too much about what fire suppression automation the distribution center had, and we made assumptions about our local fire department's traditionally lazy response time. We were slowly sneaking gasoline onto the roof of the branch headquarters in town via another roof so we thought that'd go up real nicely, a real show. But the distribution center needed special attention. For this, we decided, we'd use a school bus. We knew where the town kept them, and we'd just have to sacrifice a bus to the greater good. One of us had a mother who drove buses, so he knew how to drive one too because she'd shown him without the faintest idea that he'd turn it into a weapon. Ideally getting the burning bus into the distribution center was another problem. We stewed on this. Although we didn't consider it fully at the time, perhaps the very reason the roads and concrete barriers into and out of the center didn't go in one straight line was precisely so some angry jackass didn't barrel a big truck bomb straight down the throat of it.
But everybody loved Corp and everybody wanted to be part of Corp because that's all there was left to buy or work for. So we didn't think they'd take a threat like this seriously.
We didn't think about getting caught. This didn't matter. What mattered was that those places burned to the ground. Two of us would have to drive the bus as far up the cordon as they could, smash through the gates or, better, tailgate an incoming autotruck through the checkpoint. We might have to improvise. None of this bothered us. We were immortal, blunt force instruments, we didn't worry about precision only conflagration.
I would help set the fire at the branch. Two of us would hit the distribution center. We once heard a teacher say something about people being least responsive at four in the morning. So we decided to do it at four AM, why not. By dawn, we thought, those CorpLand emblems would be gone.
As you might have guessed by now, neither burned to the ground that night.
The branch initially went up real well, we covered the whole roof with the gas and we made sure we drenched the air conditioning vents and the stairwell. And we got out quickly. But that goddamn fire department. They were full of vim and vigor that night. From where we were watching they scurried like ants. The roof of the building burned, but not much else.
The distribution center was a disaster. Most of what I know I've gathered from different sources over the years. They did get down the corridor, by following an autotruck. As they got closer they lit the back of the bus, then accelerated through the area by the loading dock to the maintenance doors. They tried to smash through. They smashed into the doors. The result was a wrecked burning school bus and two disorientated young passengers. They were half way into the building, far from the heart of it.
CorpLand security claimed they were armed, which is complete bullshit. They'd already started pursuit as soon as they saw the bus tailing the autotruck. And drones swarmed, as they always do.
In the process they shot and killed my friends. It is difficult to fully or accurately remember the mix of emotions that a child feels. They were varied, layered, both subtle and sharp. And I had no ability to understand them whatsoever. There was shock tempered by what had been poorly constructed expectations, along with a sweet sense of martyrdom. Jealousy? That's the thing immaturity spit back out. They died for a cause, I didn't. I imagined the scenario a thousand different ways, no single scene had to be real in any manner. The important part was that every sequence led to their heroic demise.
As for the fire at the distribution center, that was quickly put out by the fire fighting robots. This didn't matter to us anymore at all really. The fires were no longer our goal, forcing the occupiers out was no longer our goal, our goal became a sickening self-indulgence and glorification, gobbled up by children.
Proverbial shit hit the fan. My two friends were dead. There was local demand for the footage from the incident, Corp refused to hand it over. On top of this Corp dear Corp demanded the right to interrogate the kids in town to figure out who the other terrorists were, who we were, the two that set fire to the branch office. While we weren't scared, we also weren't about to turn ourselves in, as far as we were concerned they could go fuck themselves. We'd go out blazing if need be. We actually hoped for it.
CorpLand started even more aggressively foreclosing, banning and overcharging. You can systematically harangue and abuse a population and they'll probably suck it up for the flat screens and tasties, but when you come for their children you're likely gonna meet some resistance. Tensions escalated. There were physical altercations with security monkeys. One of the branch managers got beat down in the middle of the day downtown and everyone turned a blind eye.
Then one night a crowd gathered. There was some sort of barely uttered certainly, a not well argued consensus, but a consensus nonetheless. They marched right down to the branch office and set it on fire again, but this time properly and completely, burning it right down to the ground.