Originally posted on the Lord Bezos Rides South newsletter series.
The imperial quadrotor descends on the town green of Knights Ferry. Senior Vice Consul Kevin ducks through the hatch and into the crisp air of the Sierra Nevada foothills. He has the baby face and high brow of a Facebook aristockrat. His ceremonial armor shines gold in the Californium sun.
A centurion of Legion XXI Instagrammus Impericus approaches. “Your excellency,” he says, saluting briskly.
Kevin surveys the scene. A small hill town, nestled on a riverbank, surrounded by foothills. On every open space, every lot and street, the imperial blue of Facebook’s legionnaires. And the bric-a-brac of Facebook’s gigfolk auxiliaries. Kevin breathes in the smell of campfire and steel, and straightens his engineer’s stoop.
The bridge and the far riverbank are empty. His nostrils flare. “Why didn’t you secure the bridge?”
The centurion stiffens and faces front. “My lord, your orders were to halt at Knights Ferry and go no further.”
“I sent a WhatsApp. With new orders!”
The centurion purses his lips. Then. “The hills. The connectivity here is…poor.” Belatedly, his Book of F chimes in his rucksack.
Kevin closes his eyes and massages his stubbly face with his hand. “Secure it at once.”
“Yessir!” The centurion turns smartly and jogs toward the bridge.
Kevin watches him, a scowl on his face. “Adjutant,” he barks.
A legionnaire appears next to him: “Sir.”
“Fetch my Segway, I grow weary.”
The adjutant salutes and scurries off. At which point Kevin becomes aware of a sound. A high keening sound, carried on the wind, from the far side of the river. He watches as a ripple of unease passes through the legionnaires arrayed before him.
Then, a shout, and he sees it. Them. Figures on horseback emerging from the woods across the river. They are in the supple black composite armor of their kind, arrays of panels and hinged plates. They carry curved mathswords and short multibows. Their hair is long, their faces obscured by ghoulish battlemasks. Their eyes are not visible at this great distance but Kevin knows from bitter experience that their eyes are lit with a crazed zealotry. That these warriors do not know fear or pain.
It is said that pictures, hallucinations flicker in the minds of these fighters. Picture after picture. That they do not sleep for the visions. And they have no need for sleep. They are something new, a horror from the Far West. True zealots, martyrs. With their mathblades they tap out a maddening tattoo on their armor: Tik, tok, tik, tok…
The TikTokkers, not more than a dozen in number, nudge their horses toward the far bridgehead.
Kevin swallows a burp of kale salad, his face a closed-mouth grimace. He gestures to the adjutant. “Send the gigsoldiers over the bridge to chase off the bandits.”
The adjutant opens his Book of F and drafts an order with a feather stylus. His face drops. “My lord, the gigfolk are ignoring the order.”
Kevin lifts his eyes aetherward. Math help us. “Very well,” he says through clenched teeth. “Double their gigpay. And have the contractorii push them into the river if they refuse again.”
The adjutant nods and is intent upon the Book of F. A moment passes and then the gigfolk skirmishers surge forward with a surly murmur.
As the gigsoldiers mount the bridge, the Tiktokers turn about and canter back into the woods. A weak cheer burbles from the gigfolk. They continue their desultory stroll to the far riverbank.
Kevin watches with a sour countenance. “Disgraceful,” he mutters.
The very sky opens up and screams and the next thing Kevin knows, he is on the ground some 10 meters from his original position. He is aware of a ringing din, of dust, and a commotion. But it is peaceful where he lies so he remains.
He watches as a second salvo of rockets hits Knights Ferry, and the quadrotor is spinning up, and then, no it is a cloud and then it is pieces and then it is fire. Dimly, he thinks, But how will I leave?
The adjutant is crouching next to him and shouting in his face but Kevin cannot hear him. Then the adjutant falls and stops shouting. From his low vantage on the ground Kevin sees boots, legionnaires running away from the bridge. And he turns and sees that a shimmering horde of TikTokkers have burst from the hills around Knights Ferry and are engaged in a melee with the legionnaires of XXI Instagrammus Impericus.
The gigsoldiers are nowhere to be found, they have melted away, (cowards!) and it is now a desperate contest between the remaining contractorii legionnaires and the Imperial Segwaii, the Segway cavalry, the cream of Emperor Zuckerberg’s legions.
It is not meant to be this way. There is an order to things. First the gigsoldiers are committed to battle. Sometimes a brief exchange of gigsoldiers is all that is required for honor’s sake. If the enemy is especially intransigent, the contractorii, with their superior equipment and reliability, are the second line.
The Segwaii are rarely committed to battle. While they are much feared in the Westlands, it is generally understood that aristockratic blood is not to be spilled in the course of battle. There are rules. Ransoms, non-competes.
To be commissioned in the Segwaii is a customary step for ascendant middle and upper management. A most honorable deployment. Much merit. The uniforms are tailored and look excellent at imperial functions.
And so Kevin is struck by the wrongness of what is happening. A marketing lord staggers by, a bolt protruding from his arm. A vested senior project manager stumbles from a Segway, both he and his mount engulfed in plasma fire.
Strong hands grab Kevin and lift him to his feet. He turns. A centurion is shouting at him, holding him, dragging him. The contract legionnaires have formed a defensive phalanx in the town square, an island of order in the storm.
Kevin is filled with an uncustomary upwelling of possibly gratitude. Merit fall upon these contractorii, he thinks. He resolves to renew their contracts as darkness descends upon his world.
Order of battle, typical Facebook legion (late imperial period)
Gigfolk make the bulk of the legion. They are untrained, and equipped with old-fashioned edge weapons, poleaxes, and slings. They cannot afford and thus do not wear armor.
In a typical great house engagement, the Gigfolk are the vanguard and are the first committed to battle. Behind them is a line, somewhat smaller in number, of professional contractorii. These troops wear Facebook livery and armor, and carry standard issue mathswords and multibows. But as contractorii they do not receive benefits or stock, and can be summarily dismissed at a moment’s notice.
The loyalty of the gigfolk and contractorii is bought through an ever-changing payscale. An infantry charge may require a bump in gigpay, or a contract renewal. Desertions and insubordination are endemic in most house armies.
Farthest to the rear, are the cream of the aristockracy, the imperial Segwaii. Numbering but a tenth of the legion, they are full-time vested staff and investors of House Facebook. Their war Segways are a feared sight on any Westland battlefield. They enjoy the finest equipment, mathswords, and multibows. Their armor is comprehensive and nearly unbreachable. Appointments with the imperial cavalry are prestigious. Actual combat is rare, and generally ceremonial in nature. Casualties are nearly unheard of.