Apex Universe

Chronicles - Chapter 1

HOW IT CAME TO PASS

by Fernando Kornijezuk

Future historians might consider the privatization of Panama, in 2053, as the turning point.  Ground zero. A world where order and progress were no longer the normal state of affairs. Chaos and anarchy were. Others might point to fundamentalist religious-political party UNITY winning a landslide victory in the 2056 French elections, devout Luddite populists with a mandate to unwind and replace technology from the post-digital era. Or pick 1 January 2057, and blame the Singularity60 virus which took less than 3 minutes to erase all content on what remained of the internet, and within days had uploaded itself to high-end cyber implants worn by the millions of the transhuman elite who could afford them – rendering the lucky ones insane, and the not-so-lucky dead…or worse.

Deep down, the cause doesn’t matter – there are many, any of which would have left us neck deep in a pile of proverbial crap. Fact is, the world sucks if you are not the executive of a damn mega corporation.  And I haven’t even mentioned the worst of it all, my friend, energy. Goddamn energy.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  All eyes glued to the England 2052 World Cup grand finale.  Hossam Hassan had just scored a screamer for Egypt when suddenly the green of the pitch was replaced by a gray avatar on a black background. That was the first I ever saw the unsettling GOTA logo, the terrorist group symbolized by a sneering emaciated black lion, gazing us smack in the eye by way of every screen on earth. The extremists’ plan had been set in motion, but not even the most demented bioterrorist would have welcomed the new world order that it would eventually lead to.

GOTA’s message was straight and to the point.  Energy and oil companies were the culprits of everything that was wrong in the world, and that time had come to put an end to “oppression by capitalism”.  A televised message that no one could forget, as it was literally the last image most of the sorry lot on our planet ever saw broadcast on a screen since. 

GOTA detonated five thousand bombs simultaneously at the major power plants and distribution lines worldwide. Hydroelectric plants crumbled, flooding millions of acres. Coal plants and nuclear reactors shattered. Consequences were immediate and permanent, and shape the world we live in today.  The lights went off, the world turned dark.

Sounds unbelievable, right? Well friend, this was not the worst of it. Shit hit the proverbial planet-sized fan when the damn crazy terrorists moved onto stage two. The cherry on top of their ruinous gambit, releasing genetically modified bacteria into water. Though it was harmless to us, humans, those blasted microbes destroyed our last hope. They were engineered to feed from complex hydrocarbons, mainly the type only found in earth’s remaining oil and coal reserves. Stock market crashed, mass plundering followed, cities reduced to ruins and wars popping up like a rash across continents. Chaos was the new world order.  

The United Nations, or what was left of it, passed one last resolution before disbanding: “The Amendment For Democracy”, which recognized the failure of sovereign States, sanctioning the replacement of elected governments by appointed directories with executive powers to implement any laws in an attempt to reign in chaos.

All this crap took place many years ago. Surprisingly the world did not come to an end. Heck, here we are, pal!  Yet everything action has a price. The large global corporations, those that managed to keep hold on to their wealth and assets, exploited the power vacuum to ensure survival by any means.  Like parasites feasting on a decaying body. In every country, if national borders still held any meaning, major corporations systematically took power, lobbying for amendments to constitutions and new laws by means of bribery, extortion, murder, black magic, or whatever it took. That’s true, pal! All true! Countries evolved into corporate brands, and geopolitics divides were redrawn. National currencies crashed and were replaced by corporation-sponsored credits which did their part to boost inter-corporate trade.

The few solar and wind energy farms were hunted down and fought over by many Corporations. The ones that survived the attrition are now heavily guarded and their locations kept with the utmost secrecy.

Brands are not for everyone, though. A handful of fortunate folks were picked to inhabit Conglomerates, the gargantuan complexes built and run by the mega-corps.  With access to decent food, clean water, and a wholesome living in exchange for unquestionable devotion to their leaders’ goals – whoever or whatever they were – with their plans and connivances to usurp, in a manipulative or hostile way, the assets of their rivals and opponents. In a world almost barren of energy and fuel, you can imagine how complex this could be. Some mega corporations failed. Others blossomed and became the de facto inheritors of the world. 

The large majority was excluded, left out. With no choice but to live off the waste and leftovers that was of no value to conglomerates. They are the ones that inhabit the vast brown-gray barren landscape that no mega corporation cares about, littered with the ruins of what once had been large cities, a stark contrast to the clear unpolluted azure-blue skies and the myriad birds that harken to a unspoilt distant past, or a symbol of hope for better days. Chaos prevails everywhere, yet there are some who try to lead and get civilization back on its feet, compelled by what was left of their humanity and decency.

In such a scenario, it is easy to understand how UNITY flourished, smothering all other religions, and spreading its temples and banners everywhere. More often than not, these madmen operated from within the Conglomerates, whitewashing corporate greed with the veneer of faith and spirituality, in exchange for privileges and access to resources. However, it was amidst poverty where they found fertile ground to breed their most ardent followers, whose number grew every day, like fire spreading on a corn field, ready to commit acts of sheer lunacy in the name of salvation. This is where UNITY laid the groundwork of their intelligence network, and recruited suicide bombers. That’s one ekes out a living in a world where everything is missing.

Maybe I’m wasting my time here. Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir, and you already know all this. But now, pardner, I’m gonna tell you what you don’t know. What nobody wants anyone to know.  The single truth that every mega corporation and every sing single damn prophet want to keep to themselves.

Two years ago I was resting my forehead on a bar counter, pausing only to drown my grudges with the help of a bottle of vodka. Little old me, a wretched crane truck operator, trying to make a living in a world without the power to operate a crane. A sad joke. It was the morning I first heard mention of Cedric Mirt, genius, scientist, PhD in cybernetic improvements, engineering, and particle physics. And a pacifist too. A man who still believed that society could turn the corner and get back on its own feet.

Cedric’s novel ideas and wacky experiments resulted in the development of K-CUBES, technology that made it possible to transform and store kinetic energy as solid matter.  I didn’t understand diddly-squat when I heard about it for the first time, but I’ll try to explain: He had found a way to set things in motion again. And he wanted everybody to have access to it. A revolution! 

Revolutions though only serve the dissatisfied and the desperate. Twenty years after the GOTA strike, mega corporations were quite satisfied with the status quo. Cedric Mirt was slandered, persecuted and ousted from the Conglomerates. They cut his access to the industrial equipment required to produce K-CUBES and, to make sure, tore down his lab and all destroyed his notes and data. Still not satisfied, they cut a deal with the UNITY intelligence and put a hefty price on his head. Cedric never lacked for smarts, and seeing he had it coming, he arranged to vanish somewhere in the shadows of the gray city ruins, unknown for certain to be dead or alive.  A boogeyman. 

Booze tales, pal, I know. I’ve heard my share of them. Yet I keep coming back to this one. It’s a good tale.  A modern-day hero in a world that gave up homing too long ago. I did more than recount it in watering holes. I followed the rumor, or maybe it sought me out. I don't recall it so clearly now. The fact is that a few days later I was meeting the boogeyman face-to-face. Me and nine other guys, the kind of people you pray to never see in a dark alley. All thugs. All of us, former truckers. Like you and me, pardner.

Cedric explained that he fled with a handful of blueprints and prototypes. And he had a job for us. A simple plan. Covertly transport those prototypes to the industrial sector, replicate the technology, and bring back as many of them to hand out freely to the people. We’d be driving trucks powered by that technological wonder. However, to do that, we would have to relearn how to drive. A truck powered by K-CUBES behaves quite differently from the ordinary diesel or gasoline truck. It’s more like a fierce beast.

 

Our mission was actually to steal. Steal from the rich, and give it to the poor. Like Robin Hood riding a steel giant bursting with potentially kinetic power. In exchange, I’d be back to driving trucks on deserted roads, and keep any leftovers from my missions. That was music to my ears, pal. In order to do it, the man taught us to handle the K-CUBES and put them to work. He made some cybernetic modifications to our bodies, so that we would endure the stress of driving those machines at breakneck speed, improving our reflexes and our ability to process information. Now I wear two dark lenses in place of my eyes. I never saw the world in full color again; however, the world was changed too. To accomplish our mission, we simply had to be the best. We had to be at our apex. We were the first ten K-Truck Racers.

Razor and Panzer didn’t return from our first mission. Koran deserted, never even turning up to the heist. The remaining seven lasted. And never ceased to improve. The need to stay at top shape and – I must admit – preserve our wild spirit led us to compete fiercely among us.  We’d be racing each other as much as we were hotfooting it out of corporation reach. That was how we kept ourselves sharp, and made some money too, or lost it to others in bets and bravado.   

Of course, those mega corporations didn’t like it at all. They found a way to create the VIGILANTES, metallic giants that were set to patrol the surroundings of the Conglomerates, ready to kill any unwary  rebel. Furthermore, they set rewards for our heads, and the UNITY was ready to turn us in for any small amount of money. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort when we see the difference we make to those living in the gray areas. We give them more than resources. We give them hope, and there is still enough change in my pocket to fill my gut with beer.

Yet this is just a drop in the ocean. We need more waves. And now my time as a K-truck driver is almost up. I’d say that my current occupation is closer to a talent hunter than to a bounty hunter.  The crew must be renewed. New blood. Like yours. And your buddies who drive fast like you do. Truckers. Wild ones. Tough guys. Sharp mind and heart in the right place.  Willing to drop a few pounds of flesh to make room for five or six cybernetic implants, it’s a price to pay to learn how to control K-Cubes and a truck drone and drive a steel giant at unreasonable speeds. Small sacrifice for fame, glory, credits, and some justice.

In a few days there will be a training race. It will be a great chance for a new K-Truck Racer to show what he is made of. Tell me, pardner, how fond are you of the color of your eyes? 

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