The apocalypse finally came around, and nobody really noticed.
Sure, there were a few loony bastards who started screaming about the End Times when that flu epidemic came across the Pacific and starting killing people in San Diego. And yes, a couple armchair prognosticators told anyone who would listen that the high price of gas meant the end of civilization. But even when the war for South American oil fields spilled over into Mexico and as far as the southern bits of the US of A, most people just sort of shrugged and said, 'what are you gonna do?'
The thing is, if the apocalypse had happened in a day, everyone would have run around in a panic and started stockpiling canned goods. But when it takes fifty years for civilization to slide into the toilet, people just don't really notice. There's an analogy in there about a frog and a hotplate, but the point is, the end of the world kind of slid past, and left the survivors wondering what happened. Or, in most cases, it didn't leave survivors at all.
There are no records about this sort of thing, and it's not like there are conscientious historians out there recording everything for posterity, but the common number you hear is that, over that fifty-odd year period, the population of the world was thinned out by something like 80 percent. That means if you knew five people at the beginning, four of them were dead when it was all over. And it's not really all over, it's more like we quit counting.
Diseases still kill people, and since all the free clinics have been looted, burned, or turned into armed bunkers, people die from Tokyo Flu even faster than they did before. But without as many people to carry the disease, it doesn't spread like it used to. When we see someone with yellow eyes and blood coming out of their ears, most people shoot them and burn the body, just to be safe.
Same goes for the fallout. Sure, when those Salvadoran radicals blew a nuke in Denver, a few million people bought the farm. But now we all know to stay away from the Rockies, and when a radioactive storm cloud blows through, there just aren't enough people clustered up to lose a whole bunch at a time. Mostly, when it starts raining, we all get inside and stay there until the roads dry.
So things were bad all over, but it was so gradual that we just adapted. When gas hit a hundred bucks a gallon and biker gangs took over all the fuel reserves, we bought solar cars. When entire neighborhoods were crawling with sick people half out of their minds, we moved out of the suburbs and into militarized buildings in the city. We learned to shoot, to brawl, to steal and to kill, but it happened so slow that we never even realized that the world had come to an end.
Probably the biggest indicator that we were the ragtag remnants of humanity was when the government closed up shop. The president died from corn flu, and took half his cabinet with him before he went. New elections were scheduled, but never really happened, and then when some asshat terroristas nuked DC, I guess they just threw in the towel and went home to their families. That didn't happen until the end, though, and it was only possible because there was no jet fuel, no National Guard, and our communication networks had been reduced to the occasional radio show. Basically, while it caught a lot of people flat-footed, nobody was really surprised when Uncle Sam decided to call it a day.
Now, I don't really know how the rest of the country looks, outside what I hear from the occasional traveler passing through town, but down here in Dallas, we've got it pretty good. At least, we're pretty good compared to California, where a handful of gun-toting thugs steal whatever they want and kill whatever they don't, or most of the Midwest, where the corn flu made everyone who survived it crazy as a shithouse bat, until they're all running around with lawnmower blades, caving in heads and eating each other.
Here in Dallas, we've got a shred of civilized order. There are lots of gangs, and lots of crime, but we've also got a wall around the center of the city, and folks eke out lives in high-rise buildings where investment banks used to have cubicle farms and call centers. People here are street cleaners and food vendors, message couriers and scavengers. The sheriffs boot anyone who can't make a living, which sounds a little harsh, until you consider that there's just not enough to go around if we take in every panhandler and sob story looking for a free meal.
Me, I'm a taxi driver. The name’s Winston Creed. I inherited a solar-powered car from my old man, and live in a little garage at the edge of town, not too far from the Wall. There's enough room for the car, a gun locker, a tub and a lumpy mattress on the floor. The building used to be bigger, but half of it burned down in food riots thirty years ago, and it's never really been worth fixing back up again. It's easier to put concrete barricades on the exterior walls and steel reinforcement on the doors if I don't try to expand, and besides, I've got everything I need.
Of course, the biggest thing I need isn't even in the garage. It's in the Ross Building downtown, where Arlen Waites holds court. He saw the end coming, and got together with a few hundred of his closest friends and set himself up as the local ruling authority. He took over a water refinery in South Dallas, set up convoys to get water from Lake Ray Hubbard, and now he controls all the drinking water for everybody who lives inside the Wall. The sheriffs work directly for him, and while he recognized the value of law, he also recognizes the value of being the only guy in town who can burn down your house and kill your family if you steal his bread. He's a gangster and an extortionist, a thug and a villain, but he's also the only reason people in Dallas can sleep without a gun under their pillows and a dog the size of a piano.
He's also my boss.
Well, technically, he's everybody's boss. If you run a business in Dallas, you do it at his leisure. You pay your dues when his boys come to collect, and if he decides you need to open an hour early, well, you better get used to being a morning person. When one of his boys wants a ride from me, he gets it free, and in return, I get to keep whatever fares I pull down on my own. It's a rough life, and it sure isn't fair, but it beats fighting off raiders or starving to death.
We hear rumors every now and then that things are better in Europe, but I don't put much stock in them. For one thing, it doesn't matter - it's not like we can hop a 747 and take a red-eye to London. And these kinds of rumors are everywhere - Canada still has a government, France has farmland, Russia has airplanes. People like to think about how much better it is somewhere else, but not me. Arlen Waites might be a bastard, but he's saved a lot more lives than he's taken, and if you ask me, things could be a lot worse.
And then, sometimes they are a lot worse.
Come back Friday for part two of Taxi Driver of the Apocalypse.