Down With Power Audiobook!

L. Neil Smith's

Number 830, July 19, 2015

A weapon in every hand;
freedom on every side.
—F. Paul Wilson

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Blackout Day
a short story
by Jeff Colonnesi

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

"Papa & Grandma are here!" called Sara, bouncing on the couch by the front window.

"You and your brother go see if they need help with anything." Isabella responded from the kitchen. "Really," She said, turning to her husband, "why do they have to come for breakfast?"

"You know Dad won't drive during the blackout. I don't think he ever has." Bob answered, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her neck "Besides, its tradition. And I'm cooking."

"Hrumph. It would still be nice to sleep in. The blackout doesn't start till 10." she replied without heat. "Now leave me be, I have stuff to prepare before the power goes out".

Bob stepped outside and his smile dimmed slightly. His Dad was having a hard time and needed a cane now. Where had the time gone? He didn't look that old the last time he saw him. His smile returned as he saw Sara helping carry containers. She was being such a big girl, helping her grandpa like that.

"Your generation sissified this holiday." grumbled Papa. "It used to be three days long, from sundown till sunup. Thirty six hours, more or less. Now you've cut it down to twelve measley hours, and the radio said they're considering making it 8 next year!"

"Nice to see you too Dad. What do you expect? Not everyone celebrates it, and businesses lose a lot of money." Bob responded good naturely. This was a long standing gripe of his Dad's. Secretly, he thought the old man kinda liked that it wasn't the whole day anymore. "Hi Mom, you didn't have to make anything". Bob said as his mother came around the car. He hugged her and kissed her cheek.

"Nonsense, I wouldn't deny my grandchildren homemade pie." she chuckled back. Then, in a whisper, "Don't make a big deal about your Dads choice of sidearm, it was a compromise."

Bob glanced over at his Dad and took stock of what he was carrying. It was the stainless steel Vaquaro that he and mom had gotten him fourty- plus years before. Odd, the design was an antique then, and he'd never seen his Dad carry it. It was a range gun only as far as he knew. But there it rode in a low belt holster that appeared to be (and knowing his Dad probably was) real leather. Compromise? What sort of compromise?

"Come on into the backyard", said Bob, "We're having pancakes and bacon ."

* * *

"Good breakfast. And done on the barbeque, like it should be on the holiday." Papa smiled while touseling Danny's hair. "Looks like the real holiday started, your neighbors stereo just cut out. And as usual, your brother isn't here yet."

"Don't get too used to it, he'll likely run it on batteries this afternoon". Isabella replied while clearing the table. "Sara, Danny, wash the silverware and put it away. Before you go play." She frowned "They'll be here. They never come for breakfast".

"Dad, leave it be. You know the holiday isn't as big a deal to them." Bob smiled. Just like always, his Dad had to needle Isabella's upbringing. "In fact, that's probably their car out front."

Almost on que, a couple of doors slammed and a call out of "Yo!, Where is everyone?" could be heard from by the backyard gate. A middle aged couple and a pre teen boy appeared around the corner of the house, pulling a small cooler behind them and carrying some plastic containers.

"Martin! Good to see you! I'm so glad you came!" cried Isabella. "Angie, you look great! Let me take that. And who is this young man? It can't be Thomas, he's too tall."

After a round of greetings, hugs, handshakes, comments about Thomas's height (embarssing to him as he was only 3 cm taller than the last time they saw him), and good natured ribbing about the covered flap holster that Martin was wearing (as opposed to the open ones everyone else had), the adults settled in around the table to chit chat and play cards, while the kids scampered off to change and get in the pool. It was late morning in August and was already getting quite warm —it would be stifeling by the afternoon without fans or air conditioning.

* * *

"Can we get the guns out and shoot now?" interupted Thomas from the hand Bob was playing. Bob grinned, thinking to himself—'4 hours, I'm surprised it took Thomas this long'. "Ok, but I'm only getting out the the pellet guns. There isn't enough room for the rifles here and the backstop wont take it. I guess the game will have to wait." he said as he got up from the table.

Everyone joined him in going around the front of the house to open the garage. He had move the car out and set up a backstop of several layers of particle board and ballistic nylon against the back wall. It would stop anything short of a 5.7x28 from a carbine, but seldom anything more than pellet guns were used against it."Excuse me a moment", said Martin, "I need to get something." He headed towards the car.

A few moments later Bob had a small folding table set up on the driveway, and the pellet and BB guns laid out. A break barrel rifle, a pump action pnuematic and compressed gas pistol. The kids were all clamoring to be the first to shoot when Martin walked up with a package in his hands.

"Thomas, you're almost 11 now, and I figured it would be better to give you this today than on your birthday." Martin said, handing over a small plastic case to his son with a grin.

A grin that was nothing compared to the one on Thomas's face. "Is this what I think it is?" he exclaimed. Opening it, "A COILGUN! Thanks Dad! And Mom!"

"It's currently set to drive a 4.5 mm, 0.36 gram steel BB to two hundred meters per second. I assume the backstop can handle that, Bob?" Martin glanced over worriedly. "The magazines hold thirty rounds and the battery is intigral to the magazine. It can be adjusted as high as eight hundred meters per second."

Bob grinned, "The backstop will take that, but lets keep it on the low setting for now, okay?" He glanced down at Thomas, "Come on, lets see what you can do with it."

* * *

A little over an hour later, everyone had their fill of shooting. Everyone had tried the new coil gun and they were all impressed. With three magazines available and the low setting on, there was plently of time to charge one while shooting the other two. Bob had even relented and let Thomas try a few shots from his new coil gun on full power, and the adults had taken a few shots with their sidearms. Angie surprised him by pulling out an ancient Glock 17, and surprised him more by being almost as good with it as he was with his HK UCP. Martin had unlimbered a true antique that was hidden in a flap holster at his side—a WWII era M1911A1 that his great-great-great-grandfather had carried. All the adults shot it, even Thomas (who was in awe at its shear weight) tried it. To Bob's relief, there were no extra holes in the back wall of the garage. But the neighbors were undoutbly tired of the noise and the heat was bad enough that the kids wanted to get back in the pool, so the adults retired to the shade on the patio to start dinner and relax.

The evening waxed on, fueled by burgers and hot dogs, family stories and friendly games. The kids swam until they were completely water- logged. The quiet was relaxing—no traffic noise, no megawatt sound systems, no hum of air conditioners. Before they knew it, the shadows were lengthing and candles and tiki torches were lit for added light. The kids curled up in patio chairs and started to pester Grandma and Papa.

"Were you really alive for the first Blackout Day? What was it like?" asked Danny.

"Yes dear, we were," said Grandma. "It wasn't expected like now. I remember my mother let me and my sister eat all the ice cream we wanted, because she couldn't keep it cold."

"Eww, warm ice cream! That sounds yucky." Danny exclaimed.

"It wasn't warm, its just that there was no space in the coolers, and the freezer had no power. They weren't made like today. Back then, they would thaw out within a day or two without power." chuckled Grandma.

"But what started it?" Thomas said. "Why did the power go out?"

"What do they teach you in school about it?" Grandma teased.

"They say that a lot of people got upset because they were banning a flag, and so they shut off the power to teach everyone a lesson." Grmbled Thomas. "But it doesn't make sense. I mean how would they turn off everyones power? What did they do, go house to house and cut the wires? And why over a flag? Why didn't they just fly whatever flag they wanted?"

"It was a different time," started Papa "most houses didn't have their own power source, and those that did usually couldn't run on it alone. Batteries that could run a whole house didn't exist—or if they did they were too expensive for ordinary people. Everyone was hooked up to the central power plants and, there was little backup. So when the power plants were shut off, most people didn't have any power. Those that did usually didn't have enough to run the whole house."

"It was back in '15 or '16. The country was a mess. The internet was still new. There were some areas where you couldn't even get on it in buildings, and away from buildings it was really slow. Nothing like the 500 Gigabytes a second you get through a mini tablet now. News was still mostly controlled by a few big corporations. They put out 'newspapers' or shows on TV with the news they wanted people to see."

"What do you mean the news 'they' wanted people to see? Didn't people ask for what they wanted?" Thomas asked. "And how would they put news on paper? How could people ask for details? How did they update it?"

"TV wasn't like the wall screens we have today. It wasnt interactive." Papa expounded. "Sure, you could pick a different channel—kinda like going to a different website—but thats all the interaction you had. You couldn't ask it questions. And the people who presented the news just gave the parts they, or their bosses, wanted . Newspapers got printed once a day. Corrections were often buried in the back pages, if they were even printed."

"The people who owned the news companies had always doled out the news they saw fit to give the public. The power was theirs. By controling what people knew, they could control public opinion. And they took to creating what was called 'political correctness'. That is, they would tell people what was acceptable to say, how it was acceptable to act, even what was an acceptable opinion to hold."

"I would have just told them 'No!'." Thomas exlaimed. "Were people back then dumb or something?"

"I'm sure you would." Papa chuckled, "They weren't dumb, they had just been taught that other people knew more than them, so if they disagreed, they must be wrong. And the people that tried to shape those opinions were good at it. They put it in terms that seemed so reasonable. Making people think a casual word could hurt someones feelings so badly that they might never recover."

"Well, these people who tried to force 'political correctness' had disliked what was called the 'stars and bars', an old battle flag from the civil war in the 1800s, for as long as anyone could remember. And for some reason, I'll be damned if I can remember what started it, they picked that time to decide to make it 'un-politically correct' to fly it or have it on anything. Then they started going after anything to do with the confederate side from that war. They banned merchandise, tore down monuments, dug up the graves of the soldiers that fought on the confederate side and relocated them, and even defaced and destroyed artwork depicting that time."

"Finally, the working people in this country had enough. The farmers, technicians, electricians, truck drivers and engineers got fed up. You see, far more of them identified with that old flag, and the right to fly it, than did with the views of the people pushing political correctness. So they decided to go on strike. And when they did, a bunch of computer hackers helped out and shut down the power plants."

"Ordinarily the electricians, programmers, technicians and engineers who worked for those plants would have fixed the problems within a few hours—a day at most. But like I said, they were fed up. Fed up with being told what to think and fed up with having a bunch of their pay taken to be given to those that could work but didn't want to. So they didn't go to work."

"It took a week to get them to come back and get the power back up. The people who were in power learned some things then—that you can't force people to do skilled work. Or at least not consistantly enough to get a big system to run. And the people pushing 'political correctness' learned they can't force their opinions on others. That was the start of the reformation period."

"Since then we remember loosing those chains by turning off the power in the whole country on Blackout Day." Papa stretched and pointed up at the night sky over the nearby city. With no lights on except for the occasional campfire or tiki torch, you could see the mutitude of the stars that city lights normaly drowned out. The whole family fell silent and followed his gaze upwards, each remembering the people who had reminded them of their ability to chart their own course.

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