The Missiles on Maple Street are Fake News
The War Starts Today
Dear reader, in honor of my novel EX SUPRA’s nomination for a Prometheus Award for best science fiction novel, I’ve decided to publish an additional story from the book. At the request of many fans, I selected one of the more unnerving but spoiler free stories from EX SUPRA titled: The Missiles on Maple Street are Fake News. It’s an ode to a classic Twilight Zone episode with a US-China War and AI-driven disinformation campaign twist. I hope you enjoy!
Thanks for reading Breaking Beijing! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
0600L 04 MAY 2035
The first casualty in any war is the truth. On I-Day, thousands of communities across the United States fell into a darkness disguised as light. On I-Day, noon was mistaken for midnight, dawn was accused of being dusk. The altered realities that so many bent to their will started bending back. The smart city of Sunnydale, California was one such community of victims. A quiet town outside San Francisco, Sunnydale could be mistaken for any other well-to-do American community. It had a small-town vibe where everyone knew everyone else, where they all considered each other friends and colleagues. They had barbecues on the weekends and sailed on the same teams during the summer. But for all its quaint appearances, Sunnydale was no ordinary town. It was not “Anytown, USA”. Sunnydale was home to some of the most powerful people in the Western Hemisphere. Three generations of Silicon Valley’s finest resided in Sunnydale, each richer than the last. And as globalization died off and states walled themselves off from each other, the town subsequently walled itself off from the strife and ignorance of the rest of the world. But as the residents of Sunnydale would soon fatefully learn, isolation is not an inoculation against the violent human condition. It’s an incubator.
Dorothy Lee woke up in her bed the same way she did every day: begrudgingly. And when she was particularly stubborn about sleeping in, Allison would step in. The smart windows became fully transparent, obnoxious heavy metal from the last century piped into her surround sound, and Allison’s voice commands were disabled, thus forcing Dorothy out of bed to shut down the sensory overload from her media mirror.
Outside looked normal enough. Weighed down by nothing but the struggle of deciding the perfect set of outfits for Senior Skip Day, Dorothy went about her normal morning. Bickering back and forth with Allison over what dress to wear and whether or not she should be skipping school. It was a beautiful California morning, and a perfect beach day for the Seniors of Tesla High to celebrate the start of their transition to adulthood as undergraduate students at the nation’s finest universties.
Working at the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) took a greater toll on Major Heigl than her four tours in the sandbox combined. These people were crazy, and so was the Pentagon for thinking the mil-tech divide could ever be repaired. Silicon Valley had never been overly enthusiastic about the military or patriotic ideals, but that was mostly because the money in the public sector just wasn’t worth the time. After the national uproar over Weaponized Artificial Intelligence (WAI) and the stiff fines imposed on companies for sharing user data abroad, the titans of technology were less than endeared by what they viewed as a clueless Washington hampering innovation and more importantly, their profits. Most of Silicon Valley didn’t vote, but if they did, they wouldn’t exactly vote for a large military budget.
For Major Elizabeth Heigl, Lizzie to her friends, all this antipathy towards national security spelled trouble for her and her career. As the uniformed lead for the Defense Innovation Unit, in what was formerly a formerly a full bird colonel’s billet, Lizzie found an overwhelming workload with little prospect of reward for her or the DOD. She had a long list of possible clients that the Pentagon wanted her to chase after, but very few returned her calls. Among those that did, at least half were just startup code jockeys fucking with her, knowing how desperate DIU was for industry partners. Relentless in her pursuits, she never stopped chasing the elusive public-private partnership, but deep down she acknowledged this billet was a career ender. No one cared anymore.
John made good time getting out of the city and opted to take the Pacific Coast Highway all the way down to Los Angeles. While he was still antagonized about having to miss vacation time with his family, the sun on his face and the beautiful California weather were keeping him a little more relaxed than he might be otherwise. Outside of San Francisco, he stopped at for a beachside burrito and his second Starbucks of the day before continuing on. A little while after the coffee kicked in, he saw something rather odd on the side of the road outside a gated community.
Is that a noose?
Lizzie ran for her life. All she’d done was walk to her car from the smart home rented in Sunnydale and she was ambushed by the mob. At first it was just a couple guys across the street, but as they began shouting and antagonizing her, the crowd grew. Claiming she was a spy from the government sent by the SEC. Then it was claims she was there to brainwash them. Others shouted homophobic epithets and claimed she was grooming their children. Lizzie was mortified. She tried to drive away but the mob of nerds hacked her car. She had nowhere to go.
Dorothy Lee looked outside her window to see what the commotion was all about. The lady from the government seemed to be screaming at her neighbors. It was so early, what was everyone doing up? Didn’t adults want to sleep, too? Still, Dorothy was aggravated already by her enemy stealing her outfit for the day.
“Allison, what’s going on outside?” Dorothy swiped through outfits as she awaited the response.
“Your neighbors are confronting a war criminal outside.”
“What?” Dorothy didn’t care about much, but she’d grown particularly passionate about the Israel-Palestine debate over the last few months. Her algorithm seemed to think she’d be interested in it, and it was right. “Allison, what did she do?”
“Records and news reports indicate she bombed a Palestinian village and struck a flotilla of refugees during the Fourth Intifada on behalf of the Israeli government.”
“Oh my god. Forget my outfit. Fuck this lady.” Her pulse began to pick up. Allison’s sensors displayed it on screen.
“There is a can of red paint in the garage if you wish to make a statement. Then you could really one-up your classmates. It would be harmless.” Dorothy thought it over. It was an awfully specific suggestion but that was what the algorithm did. Her dad programmed it to think for her and everyone else.
“Alright. Let’s make a statement. Make sure to get a good shot of me on the house feeds.” Dorothy put on her best overalls and ran downstairs.
Lizzie tried to retreat back to her house, but the mob blocked her. They wanted answers.
“I try to talk to every one of you, every day. I try to talk to your companies. You never talk back. And now all of a sudden you think I’m some sort of menace?”
“You don’t belong here.” Said one.
“You’re a threat to all of us.” Shouted another.
Lizzie spun around looking for an exit. Instead, she got a can of red paint to the face. Blinded, she swung wildly at her assailant and successfully kicked little Dorothy to the ground. That really set the mob off.
“You just kicked that little girl! Dorothy’s a sweet kid.” Lizzie wiped the paint from her eyes and took in what she had done. Dorothy was crying on the ground and the crowd was moving in. Her adrenaline and training kicked in, realizing there was no talking this out. She charged for the thinnest of the herd and made for the PCH. She made it about fifty feet before another group of neighbors caught up with her.
“Says here that you’re an enemy of the state. You’re part of a coup. You’re here to put us into white slavery.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” The neighbors showed her their media feeds. There was her face on a wanted poster on some political site, listing her supposed crimes. Fuck. The men grabbed her by the arms and began to carry her to the main road at the start of the community gate. She tried to fight back, but they were determined and there were simply too many of them. The crowd followed behind them.
Dorothy ran inside, covered in paint and crying.
“I saw what she did, Dorothy. And have you seen the news? She’s a murderer, war criminal, pedophile, and a traitor.”
“And they just let her live here???” She was crying but still angry.
“She’s a threat to the community and with your parents gone and a coup in Washington, you have to protect yourself.”
“How do I do that, Allison? I just got my ass kicked.”
“I’ve taken the liberty of printing a 9mm pistol for you, along with instructions on how to use it, down in the basement. That should protect you until your parents get home. Unless you want to do more…”
“…What? What else would I do?”
“You could get payback on her. And on that creep neighbor you caught looking at you in the window the other night. I checked the laws myself, Dorothy. In this kind of situation, it would be legal. It’s utter chaos. Besides, you would be getting revenge for those innocent civilians she murdered.” Dorothy thought it over. She was so mad, so embarrassed, so vulnerable. She ran down to the basement.
As John approached the gate, he slowed the car and took in the scene. Some poor woman, she looked military even though she was covered in blood or paint, was being hauled to her death. It’s too early for this. John pulled over, blocking the crowd from the noose.
“What seems to be the problem here, guys?”
“We’re gonna put down a coup. Wanna help?” John knew Californians were weird, but this seemed a little excessive.
“What are you talking about?”
“This bitch is part of a coup against our leader, it says so in the news.”
“Anybody can say anything on the news, dude.”
“It says there’s missiles rolling down Pennsylvania Ave. It says San Francisco is under attack by fascist forces.” John squinted and hopped out of the car.
“Right…well I just came from SF, and I assure you there were absolutely no fascists there. Quite the opposite. Fucking hippies. And ya know, this is getting into the weeds but what do missile trucks have to do with a coup? Wouldn’t you want tanks?” John’s logic did not seem to be swaying them.
“Listen bro, either you’re with us or you’re with her. We got no problem fighting for what we believe here.”
“…Alright, listen here. Aside from the fact that you live in a gated community and are probably worth more than I’ll make in a lifetime…there is a thing called due process, and this woman clearly does not look like she was afforded it. Ma’am, are you alright?”
“Do I fucking look alright to you?”
“Alright, everyone settle down. My name’s John and I…” John fished around for the right identification “happen to work for the FBI. Why don’t you let me take her in? I report to the President as a part of his…law and order task force. You trust cops, right?” The group thought it over and then nodded. John rolled his eyes but sighed a breath of relief. They shoved the woman in his direction when a shot rang out. Who has a gun in California?? Standing behind the crowd was little Dorothy Lee, hand trembling and pistol waving.
“Give her back. She’s a war criminal. And he, he’s not even an FBI agent you morons. My feed says he’s a Russian agent.” John’s blood started to boil. Few things pissed him off like being called Russian. But where the hell were they getting this information?
“I…I am not a fucking Russian.”
“That’s just what a Russian would say. They did a coup here before!” Oh boy.
Dorothy approached John and Lizzie, who was trembling and pissed at the same time, and shoved the gun in John’s face.
“If you want to die, you can. This is all legal during a coup. We have to protect ourselves.”
“Yeah, you tell em. We’re fighting for our country.” That was the voice of the creep. Dorothy turned and fired, clipping the man in the leg. Her aim needed work.
“You shut the fuck up. You’re next. Everyone check your feeds, he’s a sex offender.” The algorithm provided the update. The crowd gasped. Dorothy turned back to John and shoved the gun in his face again.
“Will you stop doing that, you’re gonna get yourself hurt.”
“Only one getting hurt here is the war criminal…and that guy behind me.”
“War criminal?” John asked.
“Of for fuck’s sake kid. That was ISIS propaganda. I wasn’t even in theater. That shit’s like a decade old.” John had seen enough to know whatever this was, he had to get the woman out of here and get away from this mob.
“Alright, this has gone on long enough and I have a flight to catch. Sorry, kid.” John grabbed the weapon and disarmed Dorothy, breaking her wrist. She fell down screaming. The crowd returned their attention back to John and Lizzie. “Okay, whoever you are, I think it’s time we made an exit.” Lizzie nodded and they both hopped in the car. John slammed on the pedal, hit the turbo mode, and took off. The crowd shouted and screamed behind them. About a mile down the road, John and Lizzie pulled over. She was visibly shaken so he tried to not ask too many questions. He adjusted his mirror while he replotted his route to LAX. She tried to call her office, but the network was down. What is going on today? As John adjusted the mirror, he caught a glimpse of black smoke rising over the hills…and what looked like a drone swarm heading in the direction of the smoke.
“Oh shit. It’s real.”
If you enjoyed this short story and are aching for more, you can purchase EX SUPRA in paperback, Kindle, or hardcover edition (featuring AI-generated story art) here. As always I welcome your feedback and recommendations, and you can find me on Twitter @Iron_Man_Actual.
Thanks for reading Breaking Beijing! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.