The strongest knew it was a bad idea as it was happening, but lacked the foresight to take the necessary steps. The generations devoured by grizzly technologies succumbed like weak willed addicts. They are young and old alike, rich and poor, African, European, Asian, Latino, Aboriginal, and whatnot. Lacking imagination, they hand over their humanity, privacy, and dignity in exchange for an artificial sense of belonging. We are overrun by a mass of cowards resembling teenage girls of yesteryear waiting by the phone for a call from their latest crush. Only a few of us have enough strength of character, good genes and willpower to fail to fall into this trap. Those of us who value the power of paper and ink, steel and steam, loyalty and culture, tradition and fear of the Almighty God are too few and dwindling. The xombies thrive, as humanity falters. I have done all I can to defend our civilization. I pray that those who follow me will succeed where I have failed.
As I die, my only comfort is that this remnant of a world will fast follow me into the dust, and that the faithful will join me in whatever Heaven awaits the just and true.
- Memoirs of Barnabas Yoniver II, page 284
Barnabas Yoniver, IV put down his grandfather’s final book and gazed out over threatening ocean skies. His ships were being moored in the newly formed harbor west of all the submerged boardwalks and casinos, in what used to be Egg Harbor City. His men worked feverishly in preparation for the oncoming storm, and Barnabas wondered how much of his fleet would survive.
He liked to think that his granddad was the first to coin the term “xombies,” a fitting metaphor for humanity’s common enemy. His archives still held Hollywood and literary portrayals of the famous foe. Little did they understand how much worse the scourge of implanted humans would be, compared to the undead.
New Atlantic was his town, passed down to him from father to first son for 3 generations. It had several bars, entertainment complexes, a trade hall, markets, schools, 2 churches, and a court house. It was civilization as it should be, kept defiantly intact by his family’s strong hand, and the help of a few dozen armed constables.
Mary arrived with his morning tea. Barnabas wondered what he would do without his morning tea. Shipping lines to tea growers were expensive to maintain and several estates had gone dark, overcome by weather or xombies or both. Luckily, demand was low, limited to those with means, and Barnabas’ family had connections to other enclaves to purchase from estates that were still in operation. They took gold of course, the only currency that mattered. On the tray was an Indian estate Assam in one of his favorite antique pots, a bone china cup, beet sugar, cream, and a thin biscuit. Mary knew that he liked his tea black with sugar, but always added the cream as a formality.
‘She steals the cream when she takes the tray down.’ Barnabas thought to himself. He took a bite from the biscuit, added sugar to his tea, and smiled at her as he poured out the cream into a potted plant.
Mary seemed unaffected. “Your ten o'clock meeting has arrived early.” she said. “Mrs. Reynolds is in the waiting room.”
“You can send her in Mary.” said Barnabas, straightening his blue cravat, “bring us another cup and some more cream.”
“Yes sir,” said Mary, bowing, as she left.
Barnabas sat sipping his tea in the lower half of his enormous sea-side office. His desk was higher up in front of the floor to ceiling plate glass windows, overlooking the darkening horizon. 3 steps lead down to a coffee table and 4 overstuffed chairs. Portraits of his grandfather and older relatives lined the walls. He sat between ferns and ficus, flowers, and cactus. The room was intimidating.
Gladys Reynolds entered wearing her riding outfit. She had a restored antique red coat and white trousers above walnut colored polished leather boots. Barnabas was supposed to think that she had ridden her horse all the way from Pittsburgh to see him here. He knew she had taken a chopper or a jeep the majority of the way. Likely she took a horse somewhere in Bryn Mawr or King of Prussia to give the sense that she was a rugged noble traveller from years past. Even so, if she had ridden that way she would have had to come through the city, over the bridges and around Camden, which was in itself, impressive enough. Barnabas doubted that she had donned the riding outfit and flown the whole way. Besides, he did not hear her chopper approaching.
“Hello Barney.” said Gladys. “How’s the family?”
“Fuck my family. How’s production, Glad? When can we expect new shipments? My customers are thirsty.”
“Oh come on doll. Let’s not get right down to business. I’ve had a hard ride, and need to engage in some civilized chit chat before we haggle.” Gladys pushed at Barnabas' shoulder playfully before settling into her chair and leaning back with a sigh.
“My family is a pain in my ass, thank you for asking. My wife is digging into my pockets and complaining that there’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nothing worthwhile to buy. She’s right. My kids are self-entitled terrors to the locals, as is proper, considering their station. Keeping up our end here on the east coast. How is your brood in the gateway to the midwest?”
“Oh, everyone is as well as can be expected. Samuel is bedridden you know. Near the end they say, but he’s a tough old fuck. He will survive longer than the doctors expect. Archie and Vanessa are learning the family business and taking care of the estates. Like your children, they exhibit behaviors according to their station. Estelle, well we've lost touch with her, but I'm sure she will come crawling back for a taste of the lifestyle to which she is so accustomed. We’ve had a terrible time lately with the workers though. Dissidents spread their ideas of equality and so groups of them have abandoned us. I'm sure they were infiltrated by a batch of those fucking net-wits. So labor has been scarce, but we’ve had a good season growing this new breed of shortcorn. You need whiskey, gin, beer, or all three?”
“Shortcorn? Are you using xombie grain now?” Barnabas was shocked by this. Use of xombie tech by any of the major families was forbidden, a rule set in place by his grandfather and agreed to by all.
“We had to, Barney. Had no choice. Our traditional varietals of corn failed, and barley is out of the question lately. If we had not raided a local goo-brain farm and grain storage we would have been out of business.”
Barnabas stared at his biscuit. “I understand Glad, but you know the families will not be happy when they hear this.”
“Well they are welcome to try and find some other source for booze if they don’t like it. It’s just a grain you know, not tech. Doesn’t blow over so easy is all, and it’s a fucking perennial, which is brilliant. We have all been growing that hobbit wheat anyway - that’s more or less the same.”
Mary entered with more tea, another cup, saucer, cream and more sugar. Gladys took her cup without a glance at the servant woman. Mary exited, her head low.
“We get plenty of cider and brandy from Saratoga and Montreal. We are stocked with it. However, the people like their beer and whiskey, as well as your gin. I have to keep them away from siphoning off the methanol from collectors south of here. Makes them sick. When can we expect a shipment?”
“The convoy is pulling across 76 now.” Said Gladys, sinking into her over-stuffed chair. “I’m here to collect payment in person.”
“Well you will have to wait until I inspect that shipment old pal.” said Barnabas, with a broad smile. “You know it’s always POD in New Atlantic. How odd of you to ask for money in advance. If I didn’t know better, I would say you were trying to pull a fast one on me.”
“Nothing of the kind my dear friend. I’m on my way to Arlington is all, to talk to the departmental heads. I thought I could secure payment before I go talk to our esteemed friends there. You understand.” Gladys smiled back, broad and friendly as can be.
Barnabas put his biscuit back down beside his teacup. Gladys was playing at something here, and he did not know what it was. There was a threat implied in her audience with the powers that were. Tribute was paid by all of the major families in exchange for certain ephemeral protections, but the authority in Arlington had long been on the wane. Some new deal might be implied by her meeting, and Barnabas did not want to be on the outside of such an arrangement. He decided not to show his curiosity yet, he would have time to pick it apart later.
“How, may I ask,” said Barnabas, chewing, “do you expect to get there? I’m assuming you are chartering a boat from me, but as you can see,” he waved the remainder of his tea cookie at the threatening skies, “waterways will be rough for a while. I don’t imagine your horse would let you tough it out on the roads, especially past the tribes south of here.”
“Oh, I am at your mercy for the length of the storm of course, and count upon your famous hospitality. Perhaps the caravan will arrive before I can leave. If so, it will be business as usual. If not…” Gladys sipped at her tea. “I’m sure we can come to some kind of understanding.”
“Perhaps,” said Barnabas.
“So,” said Gladys, leaning in, “what are you doing up in Tarrytown?”
Barnabas did not allow himself to look surprised. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Come come Barney. You know how hard it is to keep a secret from the families. We know you have someone in there. What’s going on? What do you hope to accomplish?”
“I have no one in Tarrytown. I do not know what you mean by a secret. You have been misinformed.” Barnabas felt like his stomach was on fire. He wanted to kill her, then he wanted to find the snitch and kill him in the most elaborate way possible. Faces and names rushed through his head. His heart raced, as he carefully replaced the china cup in its saucer.
"I'm worried that I've upset you Barney. I'm sure it’s merely random gossip. You know how dull things get. You can't beat a spy story for entertainment, but if it's false, it's false." Gladys' eyes were full of kindness and understanding and skill and deceit.
“It is discouraging that you engage in such petty talk.” sighed Barnabas, looking toward the gathering storm. “I know life is enervating in far flung Pittsburgh, but that’s no reason to entertain fantasies about my business. I have no reason to infiltrate some paltry Westchester junkie-huddle. My trade routes are strong and getting stronger. My workers are not in revolt, I can assure you. I supply valuable goods to you and yours. To be frank, I find this attempt to smear my good name a direct insult to my forefathers.” He rose. “You are, as always, welcome to stay here for as long as you like. I do not forget my friends. I hope you keep that in mind the next time some random rumor comes to you through questionable channels. I have enemies in my ranks who are looking to advance unnaturally.” Barnabas paused, hoping Gladys didn’t take that comment as an admission. “I trust you to divulge your source when you are ready. You may think it over during your stay. I will treat any information you give me as confidential, of course. Now I must ask you to leave. I have preparations to make before the hurricane hits.”
Gladys Reynolds put her cup down and rose. “I understand Barney. I have always understood. I ask, not only for myself, but to calm the minds of other interested parties. If such a scheme were engaged, we should all be aware of it, not that I’m saying there is such a scheme, you have convinced me of that. We only want to be sure we are all in the loop.”
“Naturally.” said Barnabas, swallowing back his rage. “Now if you will, we can catch up later over dinner.”
Gladys smiled. “I look forward to it.” She turned and left through the office’s giant double door. She left it open, and Mary appeared.
“Leave me alone Mary.” Barnabas said. The doors closed. He rose, grabbed a cactus and threw it against the opposite wall, leaving a tear in the corner of a gigantic painting of his dearly departed grandfather.
“Brady!” He shouted, throwing more of his potted plants at the wall. “Brady! Brady! Get the fuck in here Brady!”