Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and violence.
“...though much has been achieved, much still has to be done in order to safeguard the future of our race. Within the past few months, we have made great strides on all fronts...”
The sector's home unit was formed up on the stadium parade square. Bolt-rifles, iron pot helmets, and green greatcoats all shimmering under a slightly pixelated, bluish hue. The treaded mechanical beasts known as “landships” were on the flanks, the torsos of their human commanders poking out of the hatches. The assembled infantrymen were all giving their hand-over-heart salutes to that huge orange flag, emblazoned with the jagged leaf of the Autumn Party. Occasionally, the gathered units and vehicles flickered, but the holographic projector always spat them back out before anyone in the audience could take much notice. “...struggle for the preservation of our blood, for the honour of our leaders...”
Cher was in her designated “formal” (albeit now slightly ratty) button-up coat, slacks, jackboots, and old, fuzzed-up orange beret. Though her headdress was civilian in nature, it was formed with an artillery-style trench in memory of her brother. Aside from this slight deviation, Cher was identical to the hundreds of other Allied Service Workers that sat in the loyalty-class zone of the audience. Most heads and eyes were fixated on the speaker, though Cher’s gaze often wandered to the faux landships and flickering soldiers. Long ago, she had picked him out from the formation; the third man from the fifth column. As it had always been, his back was turned away from her, but Cher knew it was her brother.
The local Intendant for Ceremonies was a pudgy propagandist that wore the soft red uniform and black beret of a lower-middle ranking member of the politico caste. He was flanked by two auxiliary policemen with shouldered carbines, attempting to do their best impression of military men at attention. As miniscule as they looked, the policemen were the only real armed presence in the stadium. For the military parade, they had to make do with reused holo-footage. Aside from the skeleton crews that stayed behind to man the city’s antiaircraft batteries, all the living, breathing soldiers were off fighting in the Great Victories against the mutant hordes. Nobody could be spared for parades any more, and Cher strangely missed those days. Most of the low-resolution faces belonged to men who had died on the frontlines many years ago... ten, maybe twenty years past? They lived on as ghosts, eternally damned to practice their drill. As Cher refocused, she heard the speech begin to wind down as the Intendant began to shift his praise from the armed forces towards the civilian departments; the latter comprised the nearly entire audience, after all. The Intendant thanked the labour conscript crews for their vigilance on the home front. He thanked the policemen of the Constabulary. He thanked the Allied Service Workers, and all the other pencil-pushers just like Cher. Exhilarating. After getting to the bottom of his list of honourable mentions, the Intendant paused, looking up and straightening himself, doing his best to project power with his short stature. “Autumn Always,” his voice erupted with a surprising boom.
“Autumn Always,” came the reply from the audience, in nearly perfect harmony. Then, it was all wrapped up rather quickly; an unseen technico in the stadium’s control booth shut off the projector before the ghostly Sergeant Major could even do a proper dismissal. Instead of marching off the corporeal plain as they usually did, the military parade just vanished instantly, the stadium’s stomping ground reverting to its barren state in the blink of an eye. A few members of the audience looked perturbed; Cher wondered if it was a mistake on the technico’s part, though she reasoned it may have been due to the recent power shortages. Cutting corners.
The supervisor of Cher’s worksquad dismissed everyone once the ceremony was finished, allowing all the underlings to go home. Cher sighed, bidding farewell to a few of her coworkers. She patted her coat pocket for her cigarette packet, before remembering they were banned some years ago... it was detrimental to the human condition, after all. Goddamn it. Though, she suspected the real reason was that they had to sacrifice the tobacco farms for food crops, lest everyone starve to death again. She grabbed her handbag, shuffling out of the stadium with the other loyalists and civilians, all while being inspected by pivoting snakelike cameras. As Cher neared the machine gun emplacements at the stadium’s façade, she saw a female constable leaning on some sandbags. A bandolier was wrapped across her disheveled blue greatcoat, and a pair of ridiculous-looking tactical goggles covered her eyes. Female soldiers, constables, and most politicos were all infertile. Cher wasn’t sure whether to pity or envy them; at least they didn’t get assigned a Fami-Unit. The right lens of the cop’s goggles, which looked akin to a bug-eyed telescope, examined Cher as she passed.
The streets were generally devoid of automobiles, as per usual. Most people took the tram, or simply walked. Vehicle parts were needed for landships, hovercrafts and aeroplanes, after all. Cher moved briskly, turning her head to briefly look down one of the alleys that lead to the Seclusion Zone. She saw the faded blue uniforms and peaked hats of more constabulary cops. They’re everywhere today. Their submachine guns had their stocks folded down, and were being held at hip-level, trained on several muties that were all lined up on the concrete wall. Cher saw men, women, and a few young teenagers. They mostly wore tattered coveralls, though a few had hand-me-down jackets and hooded coats. Cher wondered if they were caught smuggling, or something along those lines. Their pocked faces were solemn as the young policemen sneered at the greenish boils and welts on their skin.
“Move along,” one of the constables barked. He reeled to face Cher, though the snarl on his face softened upon seeing her orange coat and beret. “Move along, miss,” he said gently, as if he was apologetic that she had to view such a harsh scene, or maybe he just felt bad that her vision was tainted by the sight of the scumfolk on the wall. He placed his hand over his heart, and Cher awkwardly reciprocated before resuming her shuffle.
Cher was at the end of the block when the city’s rusted loudspeakers came to life, piercing her ears with a staticky, robotic voice. “THERE IS NO LOYALTY WITHOUT ACTION, DO NOT ABDICATE YOUR CIVIC RESPONSIBILITIES...” Despite the volume of the announcements, Cher still counted four pistol pops in the distance. Only stitched half of them. Must have been feeling lenient. The thought of green blood flowing into the gutter still made her want to throw up.
Six months later, seeing dead soldiers felt strange to Cher. They were sprawled across the ground in awkward, slumped positions, blood soaking their woolen tunics of faded green. Sometimes the red pooled around them if they happened to be laying on something hard and flat, like the street. Other times, the blood was soaked up by the fake grass turf or the dirt. None of them had their guns or bullets anymore; those were all looted off them by this point. Some of them even had their boots, coats, and helmets stripped off by scavengers. Cher averted her eyes, trying not to become distracted as her team moved through the ruins of the city, trying to stick to cover and avoid being seen by hovercrafts or drones. Her new coworkers were vastly different than the ones that had come before. Unlike the Allied Service drudges, each of her squadmates could be distinguished as a separate person, rather than a cog. Perhaps the thing that stood out the most, at least outwardly, was their clothing. Though many of them had to wear old government-issued clothes out of necessity (few private tailors existed), they scorned the Autumnal Dress Code by stitching new symbols on them, defacing AP patches, and mixing and matching different articles outside of regulation. Their only unifying feature was a green and red armband that signified their cause. Evaline, a mutie girl, helped Cher scale a dilapidated palisade that had been set up across the street. After dropping down to the other side and readjusting the sling on her carbine, Cher saw another dead soldier slumped against the monstrous remains of a destroyed landship. The unmoving flesh and machinery caused Cher’s thoughts to turn back to the enemy.
Cher remembered the soldiers in their immaculate uniforms. It was back when she was a girl, before most of them were sent off to the Great Victories. They always seemed animated, even when standing still. Larger than life, a reflection of patriotic power. Now, seeing them in the flesh... dirty, cold and dead, no less... well, it almost felt wrong. There were dead rebels too, of course- lots of them. But even though they were on her side, the sight of their corpses didn’t affect Cher as much as she thought it would. Perhaps, from years of witnessing public executions, her mind simply became desensitized to the deaths of "traitors”. After all, death was simply the natural consequence of failing to comply with the Autumn Party’s will. On the other hand, the army always seemed to be honourable, noble, invincible.
Cher knew, of course, that the army wasn’t any of those traits. Though the authorities never gave her a hard time when she was still a citizen, she knew it was only due to her status as an Orthodox. The correct variety of human- and an Allied Service Worker at that. The police and the soldiers were curt, but polite, and never swore or pushed their fellow Orthodox around without cause. But Cher remembered how they treated the muties in the Seclusion District. Hooked batons, spent brass, green blood, leaking skulls. It was like a switch was thrown, and their stoic demeanor became replaced by remorseless cruelty. Brutalizing, torturing, killing.
All those ‘switches’ were on now. It was a shift from unnerving, everyday repression to overt hostility. After the ten-ton hammer of the Uprising fell on the ugly city, Cher found it somehow managed to look even worse than it did before. Previously, they at least tried to make it palatable with colourful propaganda banners, clean concrete and artificial grass turf. Now, it was just a morass of bombed-out buildings, destroyed military emplacements, and abandoned infrastructure. Cher’s ratty boots constantly crunched over the shell casings, trash and ashes that littered the ground. Surveying her surroundings for threats, her eyes fell upon some graffiti. In orange paint, a ten-foot-tall message was sprayed along one of the city’s concrete walls. TRAITORS WILL LOSE. Cher found herself staring at it for a few seconds, before Evaline tapped her shoulder. “C’mon, Cherry, let’s move,” she whispered.
As they were nearing their waypoint, a football-sized, buzzing gray sphere suddenly hovered up from the shell of an old Allied Service Workers’ office to the group’s left. The leader of Cher’s team, another mutie named Vint, held up his hand, bringing the team to a halt. “Technic,” he hissed. It was a drone, sensors flexing as the rather obvious camera bolted onto its underside began to twist and turn. Anton, a jittery drudge from the underground farms, decided to send a slug into the thing. Sparks sprayed as a large hole was blown through the drone, which briefly made a distressed-sounding whirr before a miniature, internalized explosion blew the rest of it apart.
“That thing fucking zeroed us," Vint warned, frantically waving for everyone to take cover. It was too late, though. The report of rifles could be heard as Anton and Evaline crumpled to the ground as if they were puppets with slashed strings. Evaline had been standing right next to her, so Cher ended up with a rather large splash of green mutie blood. “Fuck!” Cher yelped, forcing herself to refocus, her carbine raising. She saw them; a male and a female with army uniforms, stepping out from behind a shipping truck in the car lot.
The two soldiers were reeling in the direction of Cher and Vint, their guns still poised. Cher saw their scowling faces. The female soldier was chewing on her lip as she worked the bolt on her gun. She briefly made eye contact with Cher... She looked more excited than afraid, and the sides of her mouth might have been raising into a sick smile. It was like this was all a game she'd played before; she zapped the dirty mutie, and now she was going to zap the race traitor.
Cher shot first, though. Her first bullet caught the female trooper in the cheek, jerking her body awkwardly sideways. The second round implanted itself in her temple, a loud “ding” sounding off as her iron helmet was penetrated. The soldier was drooling blood and spilling it from both nostrils as she slumped over into the rubble. A moment later, the soldier's compatriot was blasted by Vint, who thankfully had the advantage of an automatic submachine gun compared to the soldier’s slower bolt rifle.
Cher lowered her gaze to the female soldier she had just killed. She had never taken a life before. Various thoughts briefly flitted through her head. Maybe she felt slightly sorry for the hoodwinked young woman, but she couldn’t dwell on it for long. Vint nudged her. “Cher, you good?”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she replied, giving him a thumbs-up. Suddenly, a green droplet slid down her forehead, becoming visible on the tip of her nose. Oh no, Evaline’s blood. Cher instinctively gagged, and frantically tried to wipe the green stuff off her- conspicuously paying much less attention to the spots where she was stained with red.
Vint stared at her with a furrowed brow. “We’re all on the same side here, Doxy.”
Vint reloaded his submachine gun, and Cher her carbine. Though their team was all but destroyed save for the two of them, Vint decided to keep moving forward. The duo stuck to the alleyways, before coming upon an underpass. They ducked into it, escaping the whirr of an approaching fleet of bomber-hovercrafts. Cher could hear no bombs falling over the top of their heads, and though she was glad at first, she deduced that it was only because they had strayed far from the rebel line, and were likely very close to government positions.
The two of them spread out their crinkled map of the city quadrant across the hood of a burned-out automobile. Cher always wondered what being in one of them was like; being able to go wherever you wanted, rather than being herded onto trams. As the hoverfleet passed overhead, Cher realized she couldn’t actually remember which had been invented first, the hovercraft or the automobile. Whichever the case, trams must have always been around.
Cher tried not to distract herself, looking back at Vint as she brushed the dust off her brown coat.
“Well... we’re fucked,” Vint finally said, eyes flicking up from the map. A few key positions had been overrun, no doubt.
“What do you mean?” Cher asked.
“We’re losing ground. Moreover, well... the success of this whole thing relied on us overthrowing the Constabulary and the Homeguard,” the disheveled mutant man sighed.
“But we did... I mean, we control the-”
“The soldiers we killed weren’t from the Homeguard. From what I saw from their patches, they’re from the front. So the city’s been reinforced, probably with a few brigades.”
Cher swallowed. Those odds were practically insurmountable, giving the Uprising’s current resources. Vint always spoke plainly of situations, and he knew what he was doing. Though the Uprising had only been going on for a few weeks, the Seclusion District had always been a struggle for survival- he was a veteran.
“So, what do we do?” she asked.
The squad leader (or, well, now duo leader) sounded bitter. “I’ll radio it in to whoever I can. And well, you can run while you still able, Doxy. Switch clothes, blend back into their rotten society.”
“I can’t!” Cher growled at him. Vint was the type of person to threaten to shoot you if you ran; this about-face was almost insulting. “The Constabulary has a BOL on me... Each of us has a file. I’m either listed as ‘missing’ or as a ‘traitor’. Either way, I’ll be arrested and probably tortured if I go back to them.” She paused. “...besides, I’m no coward.”
“Very inspiring. Well, you and I are just going to have to die together, then. We can buy some time for the others in the rear echelon, if we kill as many Autumn Party squadlings as possible.”
Cher gulped yet again. “I... well...”
Vint rolled up the map, and tucked it into his tac-vest pouch. “I'm beyond trying to win hearts and minds, here. If my ‘pep talk’ didn’t win you over, then you’re still free to disappear. Otherwise, on me.” He unslung his subgun and left the underpass. Cher followed.
The constable lit his ‘frag’- the new cigarette substitute. An inferior way to spend your Service Credits, there wasn’t even any tobacco in it. It was more like smoking one of those room freshener sticks than anything else.
He allowed himself to slump down against the wall, the incense stick hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He counted his pistol magazines, small steel-stamped things with ‘PISTOL, LITE’ softly engraved onto them. Slowly thumbing out each individual cartridge until the magazines were emptied, he counted only forty bullets, then began to handbomb them back in, one by one. He placed a full one into the weapon, before he racked the slide of the small pistol with a sigh. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to make them last this entire fekking Uprising. He had fought in the riots, when the knives and the bombs had torn his blue coat, and now he was fighting alongside the army. And still, throughout the entire fiasco, nobody had thought to issue him a longer gun. The constable leaned, eyes flicking out of the barricaded window of the Ob-Post. The street was clear, no signs of life. He went back to smoking.
But then someone opened the door a hair, and threw in a small cylindrical tube. His eardrums exploded as his vision went white, then it was nothing. It wasn’t darkness, it was blindness. You didn’t see black, you saw the same thing you might view from the back of your head- literally nothing.
The sound of gunshots was ripping out. He heard someone else in the Ob-Post scream. He felt his face get sprayed with something warm.
His thumb worked the safety of his pistol as he stifled his own scream. His head snapped towards what he thought were footfalls- he raised the puny gun with a stiff arm, his support hand supporting his strong arm’s elbow, and he squeezed the trigger thirteen times.
Vint had stepped in after the explosion. Three Constabulary cops were dazed from the explosion. They had been gathered around a small metal table, which was now twisted and charred beyond recognition. Small white, numbered squares were burning in the air, suggesting they had been playing cards. Go-fish, maybe.
Vint fired three small bursts, the rounds slamming into the grimacing men with their ash-spattered coats, their bodies jerking to the side as the scarlet spurted forth. A tiny, automated voice from one of their radios suggested “<::SUSPEND NEGOTIATIONS...” as they crumpled to the floor. Another man- in a green uniform this time- came around the corner, but Cher’s carbine sounded off before he could get a sitrep from anyone present. It sent him into an awkward series of death throes that included shooting himself in the foot before he finally fell over. His barrel smoking, Vint turned to find a short, mousy-looking man in the corner of the room, with two shards of plaster protruding from his eyeballs. There was a popping noise, and Vint felt a sting, then he felt nothing.
Cher saw the small holes open throughout Vint’s body. His vest did little to stop the bullets; it was simply a chest rig for carrying ammunition and other items, not actual armour. The grizzled mutie went to his knees, and Cher yelped as she expended most of the remainder of her clip into twitching, bloody thing in the corner of the room. One of the rounds grazed the side of her head, sending her into a backwards stagger. She fell onto her back with a gasp.
Nearly getting shot in the head was a lifesaver, however. When two more soldiers entered the room with their weapons brandished, Cher’s state of being sprawled across the ground briefly gave them the impression that she was dead. It was just enough time for her to slightly raise her short rifle and blast them with the few bullets she had left. They fell.
Still laying on her back, she used her thumb to press down on a new clip as she inserted it into her carbine. She tossed away the small metal strip, whimpering as she rolled onto her knees. Blood was streaming down the side of her head as she got back onto her feet, and briefly surveyed the carnage in the room. Seven dead Doxies, and one dead mutie. She felt her heart sink a bit; she heard voices from the second floor of the Ob-Post. There were more of them. She imagined Vint would be proud of her, having killed four men (or, well, three men and one woman) before going down herself. But if this Uprising failed (and she had a disheartening feeling that it would), this was all she was going to be remembered for. A terrorist that killed police officers and soldiers. She remembered the spray paint on the wall; TRAITORS WILL LOSE. A civilian probably wrote that.
Cher saw another figure in a faded green uniform appear from one of the flickering hallways of the Ob-Post. Cher tried to raise her gun again, but she heard a loud crack, and something knocked the wind out of her.
So, she got zapped.
It a long time for her to build up the will to resist. It took a lot strength even to think contrarily, at least at first. The day had come, however, when she realized that change was possible. She knew there could be a better world, when she saw all those people gathering together on the streets, a glorious couple months ago. A world without the evil of the Autumn Party, where you weren’t lashed for being different. One without the death squads and hangings and propaganda, and where you could get along with a Greenblood.
Or, well, maybe. If more people had gotten the message, it could have happened. Or maybe none of it mattered at all; maybe the AP’s loyal hordes just had too many guns, hovercrafts and landships- maybe that was enough to kill an idea. Even if it wasn’t... if that special world ever came to be, Cher supposed she wouldn’t be in it. Her journey was brought to a halt by the high-powered rifle bullet that ripped through her stomach. She felt a fistful of her own guts get blown out of the exit wound in her back, and she soon crumpled to her knees.
Cher weakly looked up as her eyes began to glaze over, watching as the disheveled soldier began to work the action on his rifle, another boltgun. It was a pale young man with a sunken face, wearing a mud-spattered army uniform with the insignia of a sub-corporal. He looked nervous, and like his dead buddies, he probably wasn’t used to the intricacies of urban combat, having come from the trenches and foxholes of the Great Victories.
She thought of her brother. All slaves, pushed through the war machine, hypnotized until they didn’t question anything they were told. Cher had prided herself in becoming being a free-thinker, it had been exhilarating to finally smile among true comrades, and speak out against evil. But none of that mattered anymore- a mindless drone was no less capable of laying her low.
The soldier looked at Cher for a moment, then he raised his gun and shot her again. Cher wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a coup de grace, or if the trooper just wanted to make sure she was extra dead. Regardless, she winced as the second wad of lead cut through her torso, almost liquefying her insides as her crimson Doxy blood was added to the mixture around Vint’s pooling green. Before her brain switched off, the rusty loudspeakers came back on. The robotic voice carried in through blasted windows, laughing at her. “SLEEP, SWEET TREACHERY. AUTUMN ALWAYS.”