The western trope of the poor town being oppressed by the evil business magnate and his hire guns who are saved by the lone stranger, who then, rather than accepting their offer to join their community as a respected member, rides off into the sunset, is a parable of the virtue of individualism and self-reliance. You can see the same trope played out in science fiction, a perfect example being the movie “The Road Warrior”. Here we have a western in every way but one: it is set in a post apocalyptic world.
In my last post in this series, I explored some post human future societies. Science fiction has also explored the evils of communism (“1984”) and fascism (“The Matrix”) and the struggles of individuals against them. In the case of the western, the townspeople are the everymen, the gunslinger the hero that we wish we were. “V for Vendetta” gives us an everywoman (“Evie”) and a masked hero (“V”) against a fascist regime. “Red Rising”, a fantastic space opera, again pits a hero against an oppressive elite, as does “Star Wars”.
It is less common to find future societies portrayed as good. “Star Trek”, where the Federation of Planets is a benevolent collective where money is no longer used the high minded principle of non-interference in primitive cultures is elevated to the society’s prime directive, is a prime example. The problem with such tales is that omnibenevolent societies are boring. They lack conflict. Hence the heroes of Trek operate on the fringes of the society, interacting with other cultures who do not share their pacifistic egalitarian culture.
Are future societies that are fundamentally different from those we already know, based on those of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, the Old West, or the utopian socialist vision, possible? How would individuals from outside such societies interact with them? I’m going to continue where I left off in my last post and attempt to describe such a clash of cultures.
Evelyn and her charge walked south through the city until they reached the old rail line. The man kept pace easily, and the slower moving pedestrians made way for them as they strode along. The vehicular traffic was sparse, made up mostly of delivery vans, with the occasional consul’s car. By law, all vehicles in the city were electric, which was why the man she escorted had had to leave his vehicle on the outskirts.
Why this man would return to her city after the havoc he had caused ten years earlier made no sense to her. Surely there were other places that would buy the plutonium he had scavenged. Why return to the scene of his past crime, and risk vengeance?
“Why did you come back to us?” she asked.
He looked her in the eye. She could see his face through the open visor of his helmet, which he had restored once they’d left the mayor’s office.
“I have little need of anything but ammunition,” he said. “I had begun to run low.”
“Still, you must have other sources,” she replied.
He stopped, and she did as well.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Evelyn,” she replied, waiting for him to laugh at a warrior being given such a name.
He did not.
“I am Andros,” he replied. “Evelyn, I do not sell such a dangerous substance lightly. There are others who are much less scrupulous than your masters. I have been careful with my supplies. This is the first time I’ve needed more.”
“They aren’t my masters,” she said.
“And yet you serve them,” he replied simply.
They turned left onto Harrison Street and walked East, a block north of the elevated highway that had once carried hordes of commuters into and out of the city each day, and was now the main transport route carrying grain and other produce from the vast farmlands that spread East from the edge of the City.
“You don’t seem like a killer,” she said.
“It’s what I was bred for,” he said, “but I kill only in self defense now.”
“What about all the people who died here?” she demanded, nodding to the north where the crater lay, though it was invisible beyond the buildings.
“A terrible miscalculation on the part of your mayor,” said Andros. “She thought that she could take what was mine without payment. I was thrown into your prison. I warned her of the danger should she use violence against me.”
“Thousands died,” she said.
“Fortunately my vehicle contained the blast,” he said. “The device your people detonated could have leveled half the city.”
They arrived at the edge of the Bay. Long ago, before the sea level dropped, this land had been covered in water, but now, irrigated by the waters of the mighty California River, it was the bread basket of the city. The old Bay Bridge arched up and over the fields, which stretched of into the south as far as the eye could see.
Andros led Evelyn to his vehicle, a massive all terrain craft with six wheels. He raised a hand, and the doors slid open. He gestured and she entered the passenger door, while he took a seat at the controls. He started the motor with another gesture, and the purr of the combustion engine startled her. She realized he was waiting for her to tell him where to go, and gave him an address in the dogpatch, and the vehicle jolted to life. It drove up the embankment and onto the Embarcadero Road and headed south.
“Where do you live?” Evelyn asked.
Andros kept an eye on the road as the vehicle drove the nearly empty streets, but he turned to talk to her.
“Far to the North,” he said. “The snow never melts there, and it is cold, but there is plenty of game. It is a quiet place, where few go.”
The thought of eating animal flesh made Evelyn’s stomach turn, and she couldn’t help making a face.
“Don’t you get lonely?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” Andros replied. “But most who come to me come seeking trouble, so usually, I appreciate the solitude.”
The vehicle pulled up at the loading dock of the warehouse. In the distant past, this place had sold furniture and other appliances to the denizens of the city, but it had long ago been taken over by the Council and was used to store common property until it was needed. Evelyn activated her cell, tapped a short hello, and sent it. She and Andros climbed out of the vehicle, and a moment later, the huge door began retracting upward.
Behind the door, a cavernous space, filled with towering shelves which were stacked with durable goods of all kinds, stretched back into darkness. On the edge of the dock stood another warrior, Atlanta. A wheeled android sat next to her. She gave Evelyn a glance, then scanned Andros. Satisfied, she nodded.
“Do you have your goods?” she asked.
Andros went around to the back of his vehicle. He came back to the edge of the dock with a large bag, his arms straining under its weight. He put it down on the edge of the doc, then unfolded it. The android immediately began to emit a steady series of clicks.
“Do you have my ammunition?” asked Andros. “We are absorbing rems here. I’ll need to deactivate my countermeasures for you, and I’d rather not expose myself to more radiation than I have to.”
Atlanta nodded. The droid turned, sped away, and quickly returned carrying a palette stacked with boxes on its arms. It lowered the palette to the dock.
“I’ll load this first, if you don’t mind,” said Andros.
He lifted the entire palette and carried the load to the back of his vehicle, then returned quickly. Approaching the warheads that lay spread out on the dock, he deftly removed the small devices attached to each of them.
“OK, they’re all yours,” he said.
Atlanta folded the lead blanket back over the nukes and lifted them onto another palette that she had waiting. The android slid its arms under the skid and raised it, then trundled off with the load, its Geiger counter clicking more slowly now that the cargo was shielded once more. Atlanta nodded to Evelyn, and the heavy door of the loading dock began to descend once more.
Now that the transaction was done, Evelyn had only to see that Andros left the city peacefully. Though she’d been given strict instructions to make sure he was not molested, he was dangerous, and the Council did not want him roaming their city unescorted.
“Where would you like to go now that your business is complete?” she asked him.
“Is there somewhere that serves real food here?” he asked.
“If you have barter, I know a place,” she replied.