Thomas sat at the table with his head in his hands, years of hard work and dedication hung in the balance.
He was still the highest-grossing salesperson in the organization, his stature legendary after 35 years of service.
They called him Easter Sunday because no one could resurrect a lost deal like he could, bringing opportunity back from the dead as if it were Jesus on the third day.
Sure, he’d been handsomely compensated for his efforts, but he’d made more money for this Corporation than anyone could count; single-handedly lifting it from its Mom and Pop beginnings to a giant of the industry.
Defunct of any reason the Director of Human Resources stared at him with shame and disgust, they no longer saw him as a giant but an out-of-touch dinosaur.
He tried to explain that it was a simple misunderstanding, the word gay had once meant happy, but it was too late, the damage was done; guilty in the court of public opinion he watched as his life swirled about the room before being flushed down the elevator and out the back door – left holding nothing but a single box of his belonging.
Mary Two Rivers stood quietly in the place along the edge of the reservation she’d come to so often, the band Chief agreeing to one last visit even as the heavy machinery roared around her.
The pain had not softened in the years since her Emily, the dark-haired girl with a spirit set alight by a spark from the Creator’s fire, had been taken.
The worn and weathered doll she’d been gifted by the widow from the secondhand shop in town, herself long since dead, marked the last known location of the girl who’d vanished some 21 years earlier.
In a few short hours, the landmarks that provided Mary with the last links to her baby’s existence would be erased in the name of progress; another girl added to the list of the forgotten.
There is an epidemic across North America that has seen tens of thousands of Aboriginal women and girls murdered or go missing. In Canada that number is about 1200 since 1980 however it is believed to be much higher as many cases are never reported or reported incorrectly. Information on Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls can be found at MMIWG.
Edelman lay on the beach basking in the glow of the midday sun. I watched the suntan oil sizzling on his skin as he explained that skin cancer was a fallacy spread by big pharma and the government. Although unclear on the motive he insisted it was connected to vitamin D production and much more sinister than profits and corporate greed.
The conversation slowly turned from conspiracy to a sales pitch. I’m not certain what he was trying to sell but he insisted that he took care of himself and explained that his vitamin D was silky smooth and creamy like milk.
“Would you like a…”
I was certain he was going to say ‘taste’ but just as the words should have been escaping his lips a couple of spry young punks kicked up sand into his face as they ran past. I wasn’t spared as the spray shot across my mid-rift and into my bikini. As I moved I could feel the grit chaff against the tits.
Edelman was spitting sand (and venom) as he jumped up and took pursuit. He was a hulking man with muscles popping out everywhere and washboard abs that would make Dwayne Johnson swoon. What a marvellous specimen I thought as I stood up. I tugged at the bottom of my bikini top while bouncing up and down. Hundreds of lucky white granules fell to the ground as the related ruckus erupted just up the beach. Those poor lads weren’t going to know what had hit them.
I picked up my towel and headed in the other direction. Sure he may have been a smoke show but thank God I wouldn’t have to hear about vitamin D any longer.
“A disguise?” Paisley queried. “You planning another job? Not this train, I hope.”
“Relax, nothing worth taking on this one,” Cassidy said as he turned to his sidekick and gestured for them to leave.
The Sundance Kid stood up, “Come on Etta, let’s get a drink while the boss talks.”
Butch and Paisley watched as Longabaugh and Place passed a drunk entering from the next car. He stumbled down the aisle, a flask of whiskey in hand. As the man got closer Paisley recognized him. Arlo Arbuckle, an old magician who’d been on the circuit for years before Paisley had arrived in the new world. Rumour had it he was once a highly regarded wizard.
Arbuckle raised his flask when he recognized Paisley. Jamison nodded back.
“He with you?” Butch asked as he watched the man drop into a seat three rows away.
“Coincidence, just an old wizard I know. He’s more about the drink than magic these days.”
Butch turned back to Paisley, “You know, I’ve done some things but I’m not getting any younger. Harry and I are looking to head south, like South America south. maybe Argentina or somewhere no one will find us. Etta’s getting tired of the fugitive life and Harry promised to settle down, maybe do some ranching.”
“So why the disguise?”
“You know, Harry will be fine but out there but the Pinkerton Detective Agency won’t let me rest.”
“So you want a new identity? Leave Robert Parker behind in America?”
“Something like that but I need to be dead or they will keep hunting. Even now they are getting ready to meet us when we disembark in New York.”
“I’m sure I can conjure up something crude to get you through the crowd undetected. Once we are somewhere I can work we can do something a little more permanent. You’ll be a new man by the time you board passage to Buenos Aries.”
“No Jamison, I need something permanent. America needs to believe that Butch Cassidy of the notorious Wild Bunch is dead or in prison. I want my end posted on the front page of every ink-stained rag in the Union.
“What did you have in mind, Butch?”
“I want you to conjure up a perfect copy of me, identical in every way. The slightest irregularity will sow a seed of doubt. When I, well my doppelganger, gets off this train the Pinkertons need to believe it’s me and the minute that unsuspecting sod flinches… well you can figure the rest out for yourself.”
“You are asking me to sacrifice another passenger? I’ve done some messed up shit Butch but even if it were possible, which it is not, I’d be sentencing someone to death out on that platform.”
“…and I’d slip out the back a changed man, free, never to rob another train or take another life again.” He placed a satchel full of enough money to take me back to Europe, or across the world to Australia on the seat across from him. I’d be able to escape the restrictive laws America places on witches and warlocks. Go somewhere I could use all of my talents. I’d be free.
Emma surreptitiously melted into the streetscape, carefully concealing herself as she panned a male subject moving through the snow.
She’d been following him for days – the bank, post office, convenience store, his mother’s place – but he had revealed nothing remotely suspicious.
She trailed behind him as he beelined towards the corner restaurant, although she was beginning to concede that her client’s notions may have been painted with an ugly shade of green.
“What do we have here?” she muttered to herself as the shutter blinked open just long enough for the silver halide strip to register an imprint of his lips pressed against those of a woman he’d met out front and who was not Emma’s client.
The colours of fall blurred across the cabin window as the endless landscape streaked past. Jamison Paisley held a whiskey, poured neat of course, in his right hand. Sitting quietly in the last coach as it swayed gently from side to side, the tail of an iron dragon belching smoke and steam into an endless country sky. The rhythmic click of truck-on-rail soothing his frayed nerves as he drifted back and forth from consciousness to meditative trance.
Earlier in the day Paisley had received a telegram with instructions to catch the 9:47 am to New York. This was not a request, the ticket was waiting at the station. Paisley threw together an overnight bag and headed to Union Depot. Hard to believe Cleveland was once home to the largest railway station in the Union before Grand Central opened in New York.
Paisley was a tall man, six-one, six-six including top hat, with longish black hair and a well-manicured beard. He’d considered shaving it clean off; it seemed every run-of-the-mill magician was sporting one these days and if he was anything it wasn’t a conformist. Sure, he’d played the grandest of venues in his time, entertaining kings and queens, and dining with emperors and czars for almost nine centuries. An accomplished mage, he also plied his trade along the fringes, sometimes working with those skirting, or outright ignoring the law. He’d learned long ago that these types were not a patient lot.
Jamison noted the number “22” emblazoned on the coach’s exterior as he boarded. He perambulated the aisle and carefully examined each row before arriving at the last. Sitting in the aisle seat facing the front of the train was a deliberate choice, It gave him a full view of the cabin and anyone entering through the gangway door at the far end. A whoosh of cold air blew in from behind and a moment later a man in a long black coat and cowboy hat dropped into the rear-facing seat across the aisle.
“Robert Leroy Parker.” Paisley glanced at the antique pocket watch he’d received as a gift from King Leopold I, it read 13:00, matching exactly the telegram he’d received earlier. Well actually, 1:00pm but the telegraph utilized a 24-hour clock.
“Shhh, keep that under your hat, you and my Mama are the only ones who know who that is.”
“I see you are right on time, Butch.”
“You know, when you rob trains punctuality is important. I’m kind of a stickler for that sorta thing.”
“I guess so, what can….” Paisley stopped mid-sentence to watch a tall well groomed man with a cool drink of water on his arm make their way down the aisle and into the seat across from Cassidy.
“Jamison, you know Harry Longabaugh…” the Sundance Kid tipped his hat as Cassidy continued, “and this is his girl Etta.”
Paisley smiled, tipping his hat to the lady and then turning back to Butch, “What can I do for you Robert?”
Content Warning: Contains violence and coarse language.
3. Resistance: Endgame
In the darkness something stirs on a densely treed hillside, sniffing and pawing at the fresh ground underfoot. It’s only minutes before six more patrol units arrive. Unit 7 watches from a ridge across the valley. Within minutes they find what they are looking for. A corpse, the one we buried the other night. It is only a matter of time before they track us back to the compound. Unit 7 will do everything I can to slow them but it won’t be enough. Maybe an extra hour or two but against six of them linked to the hive they will fall. Hopefully, they will be the last to die. The weapon is ready but the deployment mechanism is still in flux. It doesn’t matter we have to go now.
I raise my hand to volunteer. There is no other option, I am one of only a handful of operators with enough hours in the simulator flying the alien vessel. None of us have ever actually flown the craft. I will carry its payload to the wormhole on my maiden voyage.
The word comes of Unit 7’s demise, a message sent a moment before their Captain is impaled, the gruesome sounds of his death broadcast throughout the compound before his radio falls silent. They will follow our god damned scent back here and be on us before nightfall.
The vessel preparation rushed and ready for launch, its payload in place as I climb the ladder, my dog watches from below whimpering, almost begging me to come back. He knows as does my girlfriend smiling through the tears rolling down her face.
Outside the bombardment has started. The enemy is knocking at the door and if I don’t launch this tin can everyone in this compound will be lost. Humanity will be lost. With that thought, I begin the launch sequence and moments later I am screaming “fuck’ as I’m pasted into the seat of a vessel catapulting into the heavens.
Humans once defied gravity, sending aircraft around the globe in dizzying numbers and spacecraft to the stars but today I am the first human in over 10,000 years to leave the ground. It is overwhelming as I watch Earth, my home receding behind me. My eyes wide but tinged with hope and sadness. Mother is a beautiful jewel in the vastness of space. Looking out over this swirling blue sphere it is difficult to believe our ancestors could have caused so much damage to her.
I might feel the same about the wormhole my vessel is approaching if it had not been a gateway from hell. A swirling vortex of infinite colour melting together. Iridescent against the black of the space behind it. Stunning in its own way and then one last look at home. The vessel once part of the collective flings itself into the rift at my command and moments later detonates its payload. The space around me turns white and then collapses into blackness…
This day will fade into history, songs will be sung and stories told, but they too will take on a life of their own or fade away over time. I was never meant to return home but what I saw gives me hope that humanity will renew its commitment to protect and live harmoniously with our Mother.
Content Warning: Contains violence and coarse language.
2. Resistance: Two Worlds
None of us fighting today were born when they arrived from across the Milky Way but we carry on the fight as four generations of our descendants did – a fight for human survival, Earth’s survival. Tonight’s effort was a small but valiant act toward the cause. Every one of them that we eliminate without detection is a moral victory. That we got away without losing anyone is a miracle.
The trip back was long but quiet. Most of the team was exhausted but sleep is difficult when you’re on the surface. We can all name someone we’ve lost and putting that murderous monster in the ground was deeply satisfying. They are an invasive species in the same way colonial Europe was as it traversed the ancient globe but at the same time, it weighs on a person knowing you’ve killed a sentient being. We didn’t ask them to come here, not directly anyway. They found some old technology from Earth’s space age drifting beyond our solar system. It was sent to explore the heavens long before global temperatures wreaked havoc on the planet and put an end to the first human epoch.
The sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history and the only one directly caused by one of her native species almost eradicated humanity. Estimates put the population decline at nearly 90% as food systems failed, and disease spread. Those who survived returned to a subsistent existence, traversing the planet’s parched lands for shelter and sustenance.
Nearly 10,000 years have passed since the collapse. Humanity was beginning to rise from the ashes of our own destruction when our ancestors gifted us with one final “fuck you!” The invaders used our own star map and the other information we place on that wayward vessel to plot the wormhole terminus now visible in our skies. They did not come in peace but instead to exploit what resources our ancestors had not already plundered from the solar system.
Our small group begins to stir from their trance-like state as we approach the compound entrance. The screening at the entrance is extensive but once we get through home always lifts our spirits, although most of us will head straight to our regenerative pods to get some proper rest. While many of us survived in hardship on the surface, another group seeded from the greatest minds of the old world flourished for millennia beneath the surface. Each new generation tasked with preserving and furthering the whole of human history including our art, literature, cultures, science and technology while thriving hidden from a dying surface.
When the surface dwellers, myself included, learned of the underground world we were envious and wanted to take it despite the alien threat. When we finally realized it was in our collective interests we put aside our differences. It is here in this hidden world that we discovered the knowledge required to end the scourge above and return Earth to its native inhabitants. Finally, the upper hand is within our grasp.
Content Warning: Contains violence and coarse language.
1. Resistance: A Clean Kill
“Shhhsh, quiet down and grab that corner, hurry up and wrap the damned thing up in the rug.”
“Oh Christ, it smells like death, can’t we just leave it and go home?”
“Are you out of your fucking mind, if they find it those bastards will hunt us down like dogs? They’ll pick up our scent on that maggot-infested corpse and send a seismic ripple through the hive mind. There will be nowhere to hide, every god damned one of them will catch a whiff of you even if you are on the other side of the planet.”
“The last thing we need to do now is draw attention, especially when we are so close to closing the wormhole – now dispatch with the insipid bullshit and grab a corner!”