The Word Warrior

A Post-Apocalyptic Parody

Warning! Those who consider bad end-of-civilization sci-fi movies such as "Mad Max," "The Road Warrior," "Waterworld," and "Barb Wire" to be morally, aesthetically, and intellectually offensive should probably skip this cautionary tale and move to the next article.]

Through her cool ultra-UV-protection sunglasses, the Word Warrior scanned the sun-baked wasteland around her. On the horizon, a dilapidated village jutted up from the desert.

Hearing a warning rattle from beneath the bolder beside her, she froze. Out of the corner of her eye she spied the deadly coils. She slowly drew her sawed-off shotgun from its holster. Then quickly pivoting, she blew off both heads of the mutant snake as it was just beginning to strike. Too bad the reptile was radioactively contaminated. Otherwise, it could have been her dinner.

Heading for the town, she hiked over sand fused into glass by an off-target nuclear fireball. As she looked at her reflection beneath her feet, she adjusted the straps on her skin-tight leather jumpsuit. "Post-Paris fashions are so uncomfortable," she grumbled.

As she entered the dingy trading post, the one-eyed grocer casually swung his assault rifle in her direction. With her hands raised, she walked slowly up to the counter. Behind the grocer were rows of cans with faded labels of green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, peas, and even peaches. She licked her lips and said, "I need supplies."

"Yeah, whaddya got to trade?" With his one good eye, he leered lasciviously at her well-defined décolletage, and his eye widened as she slowly unzipped her solar-powered Pentium VI laptop from her backpack.

"I communicate for food," she said. "I can give you anything from a printout of mutation statistics to virtual reminiscences of the pre-holocaust world. What information would you like?" She switched on the computer, and the wireless modem soon had her logged on.

The Internet had accomplished what, a half century earlier, its original military developers had designed it for—survive a nuclear war. Data packets got routed around all destroyed links, and courtesy of communication satellites and surviving servers, the packets eventually reached their destinations. And since there were far fewer net surfers these days, connections were even faster than before the world got nuked.

The Internet had survived along with a few million people and many mutant cockroaches, but the Internet, alas, was partly to blame for the catastrophe. Somehow, spreading through the Internet, the Doomsday Virus had infected all the military computers of the world, and on the very unlucky day of Friday, September 13, 2013, the computers had suicidally launched all the world’s nuclear arsenals. Darn those military contractors for not keeping their virus checkers up to date.

Now the Internet indirectly provided sustenance for a few entrepreneurial survivors. They bartered information services for food.

"I want information about the past. I want to remember the good ol’ days," the grocer said. "I want to remember growing up in the 90’s, recall eating 99-cent burgers at McDonald’s, relive when the hardest part about getting food was choosing between thin-crust and thick-crust pizza."

"Coming up," she said as she caressed her mouse and accessed history archives on the Web.

Her college professor had once told her technical communication was a good career choice for a budding writer. He said, "There will always be a place for someone who can communicate desired information in an understandable and interesting way. Since needs and technology change, however, you must be adaptable. You’ll need to go beyond just black type on white paper. You’ll have to think in multimedia terms and become multitalented to survive." Even though the post-civilization job market left much to be desired, her professor had been right. Information was always needed even in the strangest places.

Using the grocer’s Social Security number, she accessed MPEG video files of his home town’s Blueberry Festival, JPEG photos of his family when he was a baby, HTML files of old recipe texts, and even compressed pizza ODOR files from the old Domino’s site. She integrated the files into one seamless, lyrical multimedia presentation, and then downloaded it into a self-running, self-projecting 3-D holographic module.

She popped the module out of the drive and pressed the play switch. As the personalized holographic sights, sounds, and smells projected above the counter, the stunned grocer slowly loaded cans into the Word Warrior’s backpack. When she left, tears were streaming down one side of his scarred face.

Civilization may collapse, but the need for information will never end.

Copyright 1997 Mark D. Stucky.

Originally published in the December 1997 issue of The Watermark, a newsletter for technical communicators.

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