A squad of four trespassers encroach on foot an undeveloped hill-scape real estate owned by the Paramount of Southern California. Everyday, trespassers trespass properties owned by the Paramount all across North America – indeed, all over the world. The Paramount own everything. Everyone else on the planet have nowhere else to live.
These four people, two men – one distinguishably tall and two women – they risk more this morning than any other person would normally staying alive. They trespass against warnings printed on signs and once broke down a steel fence for the sake of the crime. Nettie, one of the two women, talks to the tall man about how lucky their were and found the help they needed for coming so far.
“You know a lot of people, Rex. No one knows too much about you.”
Rex answers the young woman with the voice of slow rolling stones. “Well, they know as much about me as I know about them, about collectively, I bet.”
“He always knows someone,” says the other woman.
This second lady is older, but not noticeably so much more than Nettie. Her name is Alice. Factually, she is the oldest of three in the squad. Rex is exempt from the comparison. Rumors imply the tall man is older than the total of the ages of all three people with him here in this desert forest. No one speaks about how old he might be. Cory, the younger man, instead inquires about another taboo topic.
“How much is the Paramount paying you?”
“I never said I work for the Paramount,” Rex replies. “You make too many assumptions. I wouldn’t even ask someone if I thought they did.”
Cory tells him, “I’m just guessing.”
Alice scolds the younger man. “Money is hard enough to get without suffering judgment by someone else.”
“It’s not cool,” Nettie contributes.
“Hey, he’s cool if he’s not doing anything illegal,” Cory retorts. His muted disclaimer follows. “You know, nothing that can hurt any of us.”
Nettie sighs, “I’m sure.” Before she has completely exhaled her breath, the youngest woman ponders the Paramount aloud. “What do the rich want they don’t already have?”
Cory answers quickly. “Children, vital organs, sport, science or prostitution.”
“Warachnids,” Rex reports. His answer sounds like cement.
“Do they got them?” Nettie questions without an immediate confirmation. No one knows, not for certain.
Alice presses from the rear of the marching squad, “We’re all looking for them.”
Even so solid a reply, Cory sprays the response with acid. “Why? They are theirs. They belong to them already. The Paramount built the warachnids…”
Cory pauses so he might point for emphasis into a clouded sky and finish his sentence with a loud voice. He says, “They were built to use against us.”
“They don’t exist,” Alice submits. “Not anymore.”
Rex comments. “The Paramount say…”
“Well, that’s what we’re going to find out,” Cory exclaims. “And if we find even one, then it gets important real quick whose side you’re on, who you’re working for – us or the Paramount.”
Rex tells the smaller, young man, “It’s none of your business.”
The big man does not slow down or turn around and look at Cory, but his voice suddenly becomes loud and comes near. “And you won’t stop me… if you get ideas.”
Anxious already about being watched from the crests of the arid landscape, Alice scrambles for peace among their band of especially clandestine malefactors. “It doesn’t matter why any of us are looking for the war machines – money is hard enough.”
Nettie can’t help herself and she tells Cory, “I guess we know who’s paying you – or do we?”
“I’m no double-agent,” he claims red-faced.
“Quiet,” Rex thunders from where sounds far off. Next, his “Shh,” comes from close-by though the man is never more nor nearer than six steps away. The tall man might only swivel his hips and instantly capture one or two of his companions and make no other gesture.
Young, unguarded and never shy, Nettie respectfully admits, “I’m not here for trouble.”
This youngest girl in her squad of spies of fortune comes from Danville, Michigan. She and Alice have lived there in the Midwest all her life. Her home town, the fresh capitol of the bankrupt Wolverine state, that city only wants to know if the Paramount can be trusted. Dozens of unannounced squads throughout the United States secretly seek if obscure and ancient military police robots are not actually hidden.
Alice convinced Nettie to join her when the older woman applied to be a spy at the Danville courthouse. Alice Doogel is a friend of Nettie’s even older sister, Melissa. Between them, the topic of age never comes up. Alice talks about only one thing, ever, and she is right. “Money is hard.” And now Nettie believes, “Cash is going extinct like the warachnids.”
A small doubt in her head vexes both these women more everyday, one much stronger and larger among the vocal majority of the population of Michigan. Warachnids were supposedly non-existent. And history alone testifies the wealthy elite are not telling the truth. Alice explained her theory to Nettie before either signed papers back home at the courthouse. They spoke inside Melissa’s house before walking downtown – for there are no longer other means to travel.
Alice told her, “The Paramount won’t just give money to the people. This isn’t about love, it’s about control. It has nothing to do with the voluntary redistribution of wealth. The Paramount love control.”
“They have it,” Nettie answered naive.
“But they don’t have respect and praise.”
There, Nettie is reminded, are two more commodities the suspicious stranger Cory can add to his list of temptations. Alice went on.
“They had the grudging respect of the people before the machines were retired and lost, but nothing is ever enough if you don’t have everything. So, long ago, the Paramount got fickle and made a deal. They decommissioned the warachnids. Crime went out of control.”
“Poverty was the next step, their next piece of social engineering. Real starvation brings people in line quick enough, especially in the U.S.. Even after the warachnids were lost, the Paramount still suppressed everyone for generations. My parents can’t remember when anybody in our family ever lived a better life.”
Yet dense, Nettie sought confirmation of her understanding of her sister’s friend’s implication. “The Paramount are giving us money to bring back the warachnids?”
“Whose going to complain with a full belly? They’ll use them to start killing and kidnapping our kids again.”
Nettie was and is too young to realize Alice implied the Paramount would rather now commit treason firsthand than pay hungry smugglers. Most of Michigan think vague equivalents – communication is difficult. Local government in this age equates to vague consensus. And as clear, the expensive machinery of the exclusively rich oligarchy are rumored to be here in the Open Space of Southern California.
And the “Open Space” is nothing more than most unpopulated regions of the world. All of these are privately owned wastelands where long ago warachnids of the Paramount wiped whole cities out of existence. These empty pieces of realty are connected on maps where war machines once crawled and destroyed everything in their paths. No trespassing signs have since loomed over the borders.
Few people respect the restrictions without warachnids to enforce them. But there is nothing in the Open Space. Nothing grows here and not a living thing feels comfortable and stays. Everything precious here and everywhere became undesirable, except children. And money, that never changed.
“Rex,” Cory summons after the squad has walked a mile.
Ahead, the narrow entrance of a squat canyon redirects their hapless, straightforward march, but not yet. The young man has opportunity to discuss a less-volatile topic. He asks the leader, the tall man leading the way, “Do you know if warachnids really have eight legs? Or were those the number of armaments, like machine guns; eight machine guns or rocket launchers?”
Rex does not so much try and answer. He tells Cory, “I think they were named after everybody saw how fast they can run.”
The present tense makes Alice anxious. The older woman asks him, “Have you seen one, like a wreck or something?”
“They have those?” Nettie wonders. The young woman has no firmer idea who she speaks about, who that “they” is, than she does the appearance of the infamous automated killing machines.
Rex answers, “No.”
Then he says, “Shh.”
The tall man stops walking and blocks a warm, easterly breeze. Cory halts on the man’s big heels. Nettie and Alice maintain their comfortable distance behind the young man. Counter to instruction, Nettie’s question is expected and so the young woman asks, “What’s the story here?”
Cory makes another assumption. “What is there to be afraid of?”
Nettie seizes the privilege and she lists for him, “Guards, warachnids, spies, competition. There is competitions, you know.”
“What about mutant dogs?” teases Cory.
“They don’t exist,” Nettie replies for certain.
“Shut up,” Rex demands. “Shh, let’s look in that canyon.”
“Why?” Alice objects. The older woman said already earlier today, “We were only going to explore ruins – unless we had a map.”
Rex answers the question. “There might be a cavern, sometimes there are caverns in canyons.”
“I thought so,” Alice replies.
“We might find water,” he explains.
“Or warachnids,” she hopes, but does not so truly.
Cory opines. “I don’t think so. C’mon, we’re almost at San Diego. California is still in that hundreds-s-s years drought. What makes you think we’ll find water out here?”
The tall man is sincere when he claims, “I’ve been here before. I know people.”
Nettie gloats. “I told you.”
“That’s why he’s here,” Alice tells her female friend. She next asks Rex, “You’re from Mexico, right? Albuquerque?”
“Whereabouts,” confirms Rex. He turns away from his three smaller traveling companions. The tall man takes two steps and goes beyond his reach, that is if he really ever was inclined to grab hold of anyone in the squad.
Cory is blunt when he interrupts. “Who are the Paramount of Mexico? The Zee, right? Yeah.”
A tart tone in the tall man’s voice makes his patriotism clear. “I am a citizen of the United States.”
“Good for you,” Cory praises him and follows his footsteps. Sarcasm then becomes pronounced. “Not like any of us had a choice, the Paramount put people where they want.”
Nettie frowns then directly asks the young man, “Where are you from, Cory?”
Alice informs her, “The Gulf.”
“Yeah, but where?” scowls the younger woman. “That sounds Paramount-owned.”
“It’s all owned by the Paramount, the whole world,” Cory guffaws.
Nettie says last, “You know what I mean.”
“Let’s go,” summons Rex. “I’ve got something to show you, if it’s there.”
“Huh?” wonders Nettie. She and Alice follow behind Cory and Rex.
Her curious dismay is infectious. Cory sounds cross when he asks the tall man, “Is there something you haven’t told us about?”
The reply echoes from inside the low canyon. “No… if it’s still there.”
“One of them?” Nettie guesses. The “them” for Nettie is more vague than any other pronoun she has used.
“Broken, I bet,” Cory supposes without specification.
Alice tries to act optimistic and the older woman proposes a practically impossible scenario. “It could be lost treasure, like a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. Does anyone remember her?”
No one replies.
“Does anyone know who she is, or was?” she mutters.
Still, nobody gives the woman even as a glance. Everyone watches their footfalls as they follow an ancient dry stream bed, lead by Rex single file. The squad does in fact arrive at a cavern, one plainly open and visible beneath a thin overhanging ledge of bare rock slabs.
Cory says in accusation, “You’ve been here before, Rex?”
The tall man does not stop and he steps from the dead bed. “Maybe.”
The three other squad member must climb up the steep slow. Cory complains. “Well, I’m getting tired.”
“If you have something to show us, just tell us what it is.”
Rex promises him, “You’ll see.”
Once everyone in the squad is inside the cavern, each one clearly sees what the tall man from Albuquerque, Mexico means. The ceiling has collapsed and overfills an enormous turquoise grotto with stinging white daylight. Huge metal spiders stand comatose in the reflected chromatic radiance below. Their menacing kaleidoscopic shapes are all anyone truly sees.
“You are a terrible liar,” Cory announces directly to Rex. “You knew warachnids were here.”
Rex is not vexed by the accurate remarks. While Alice and Nettie are yet mute in amazement, the tall man reveals, “You’re right, Cory, it’s got important quick. What insurgent groups are paying you?”
The two men stare at the ladies, although Cory knows Rex includes everyone in his interrogation. The young man has nothing to fear. He admits for the women, “You’re right, the Gulf is part of the Paramount, the whole thing. Everybody there is rich.”
Alice ignores him and she speaks only to the tall man. “Who do you work for?”
He tells her, “The Zee, but that has nothing to do with my citizenry.”
She replies, “Well, I’m doing exactly the same as you. I’m paid to hunt for spies, Nettie is too.”
“Who pays you?” Cory demands.
Alice tells him, “The Alliance for the Preservation of Freedom. It’s just one family, the Kotch. You know those big boys.”
“We don’t look for just poor insurgents, either. We’re watch out for other problems, like secular Paramount power-grabbers.”
“But if the Zee have warachnids, they’ve already grabbed power,” Nettie clarifies.
Alice says, “I know. There’s nothing to hide now.”
“It will be murder,” Cory moans.
Trepidation is evident on the young girl’s face. “I know.”
Dismayed by premonitions everyone imagines, Rex asks astonished, “Nobody here looks out for the innocent and the poor?”
Cory shrugs, “Each one of us would report any other if we did. That’s all I was paid to do. The Gulf isn’t grabbing power. They only want to retire from the world in peace.”
“There’s no point,” Alice answers. She gestures at giant waiting robots. “Who will argue with the Zee? There’s the reality.”
Mischievousness suddenly swells Rex with compassion. The tall man admits to the squad of spies, “I know the Zee don’t know about these machines.”
He says honestly, “They don’t know about any machines. These are the only ones anybody has found.”
“Did you find these?” Alice suddenly realizes the response.
Nettie mutters, “Rex took us straight to the warachnids.”
Cory speaks over the young woman. “You found mythical war machines.”
Rex nods his bearded head. The rest of the barefaced squad see his every feature now that he has turned around and the tall man looks back at them. His tiny eyes are sharp and they dart all around.
Rex makes a wild proposition. “I need help, and we can run the world. We can defend the poor with the war machines. We can eat.”
Only his face suddenly darkens when he next addresses potential co-conspirators. “None of you can stop me. If you try, you won’t go home alive.”
The older woman says with certainty, “Prostitution is not a choice.”
“You can trust us,” Alice then vows.
She acts like the most enthusiastic person in the uncovered underground. “Me and Nettie, we’re on your side. What dream is this? We control the only warachnids in existence? Do you know what that makes each of us?”
Nettie answers fast. “Saviors.”
“Might makes right,” Cory states when he pledges his alliance.
Nettie tells the young man right away, “I’m stating to like you.” She knows what side this more handsome young man is on.
“Unanimous,” Rex verifies for himself. “That’s what I thought.”
“Mutiny for the sake of the poor,” Nettie exclaims once she is overcome with the excitement of her older companion from Michigan.
Before anymore nervous happiness passes through this squad of rebels, Rex faces one more uncertainty aloud. He asks the three paid renegades, “Did any of you learn how to drive something like a car or a truck?”
Everyone in the squad shake their heads, Rex, too. The tall man sighs. He thinks it is him, of anyone, he begins the rebellion against the Paramount.
“The discovery of the warachnids does certainly make the overthrow decidedly one-sided,” he tells himself in silence. Rex utters another thought only in his conscious. “Any conflict will be prejudicially short if we get these things running.”
The realization he and anyone among the poor are not ready for the future makes him depressed. The tall man summarizes his dour feelings in his reply concerning who might operate an automobile. “That’s something else we lost.”
- The End, Until the machines get running.
(Hey, dear reader, it would help me much if every once and a while you gave me a buck or two at Smashwords.)