Never Again: a dystopian short story

A few years ago, I posted a story on FanFiction.net that caused one reviewer to call it “a frigging masterpiece.” This statement has since stuck with me, and helped encourage me to start on a novel. So I’m presenting it to my online audience, now with the illustration you see above and some revisions that make it more comprehensible to those not thoroughly versed in the staggeringly massive Adventure Time chronology. Hope you enjoy it as much as that reviewer did.

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It had been one year since the humans landed in Ooo, and his job had lately consisted of carrying messages between Ooo’s kingdoms. Or rather, between all of Ooo’s kingdoms and between the different kind of city-state that the humans had set up, which they’d named the Full Circle Republic.

“I think this whole thing is going well so far,” said Finn as he went into Princess Bubblegum’s study. “But we’re at a decision point.”

He handed her a sheet of paper. “Their colony hasn’t built enough on-the-ground housing yet, and they’re looking to have a lot of their population live in the established kingdoms. They hope you’ll sign this treaty to approve it.”

“I know, I’ve heard rumors about this for a while,” said Bubblegum. “Lemongrab has told me he isn’t taking in any of them because he thinks they’ll ‘despoil my lemon equilibrium.’ So I guess I’ll need to let in extra…take this back to Minerva.” She handed him back the signed document.

“Alright,” said Finn, grabbing it and starting to run out.

“Wait,” said Bubblegum, getting out a large, non-digital camera. “Maybe I’m being overly sentimental, but I want you to use this to take a picture of the kingdom on your way out. I don’t know how much this place will change after we merge it with the humans, and I want one last photo of it in its classic state.”

“This whole thing is probably temporary,” shrugged Finn, “but I’d be glad to take the photo.”

He took the photo, and it came out very nice.

When the humans had started their colony, they’d made sure to have as little impact on the land as possible. As soon as Minerva had set up the main colony on a large grassy plain near the beach where they had landed, she’d begun the building process with strict rules: no using energy sources besides wind and solar, and no stepping out of the Full Circle Republic’s protocols for re-using as many resources as possible. Building development was to be kept to a bare minimum, with civilization only stretching as far as was needed to house everyone in the republic’s tightly-knit community.

Of course, it wasn’t like there was any risk of these rules being broken, since every human in the colony was used to having Minerva decide how things were run. So the humans had been enjoying an era of exploration that hadn’t been experienced by their species for tens of thousands of years; they were discovering the landscapes of a world that was entirely new to them, and that they hadn’t even been able to fully map out until they’d been given access to Ooo’s documents about how the planet now looked.

Eighteen years had passed since the start of this development, and the times were happy. Despite Minerva’s making clear that all humans were welcome to live in the Full Circle Republic, many of them had now settled into other parts of the continent, and the situation was one of coexistence and abundance. While there was some apprehension towards the humans from more cynical rulers like Lemongrab, many kingdoms had integrated them, mainly Gumbaldia and the Candy Kingdom.

Throughout this time, Bubblegum had continued her role as a friendly, often apolitical public figure. She had taken away the aggressive defense system tests and pat-down searches from the Gum War era as soon as possible, and she tried to keep her surveillance to a minimum. The spy cameras hadn’t come back, and she hadn’t even considered putting tooth tracking devices into her new human citizens (though the Candy People were still given them). The situation was similar for Gumbaldia, which had become a lot less coercive and surveilled since the departure of its founder.

The Candy Kingdom had somewhat grown in the last ten years or so, with Bubblegum having had to build many new homes and buildings for the humans. But the kingdom still appeared mostly the same as it had before, and at this moment it looked crisp and serene up against the backdrop of a red-purple sunset.

But Bubblegum knew it couldn’t quite look like this for much longer. The energy supply had already come under strain because of the added human population, and it wouldn’t be able to power the kingdom as the population grew in the next few generations. As Bonnie stood outside of her castle and watched bees pollinate the garden’s flowers, she wondered how to address this dilemma.

Then Punchy walked into the courtyard. As she gave him her usual friendly smile, Bonnie noticed something unusual in his expression; he was looking at her intently, and he wasn’t smiling or goofing around. For Bubblegum, this look for Punchy felt both uncannily eerie and sad. It was clear that his lucid mind was showing through, and she wondered what he’d been thinking about to confront her in this way.

After a few seconds of this, he started dancing around, tears in his eyes, saying “Watch me do my punchy dance!”

Bubblegum went over and hugged him. He then calmed down, but he seemed confused.

“It’s okay,” said Bubblegum. “I know what you mean now. And I’m going to use your ideas.”

Only then did Punchy hug her back.

Fifty years after this, Bubblegum felt like a change had happened in how things were unfolding-like the era of equilibrium had ended, and society was now progressing at a faster pace. This feeling was partly prompted by the recent actions of Bubblegum’s past apprentice in political leadership Gibbon, who had been rallying his many relatives towards creating a new kingdom for what he called “the most powerful species.” But it mostly had to do with the developments involving Finn’s relatives.

The affairs of the vast majority of humanity had fallen out of Minerva’s control, and from Bubblegum’s perspective, the world was becoming filled with different versions of Finn. Humans had become almost ubiquitous in Ooo’s communities, and there had been many expeditions by them to colonize the planet’s other continents. For now, though, they still mainly populated Gumbaldia and the Candy Kingdom, which were taking on more and more of the signature red-and-white smokestacks that Bubblegum’s uncle had introduced. And since the times were still stable enough that she felt comfortable keeping her stand-in in charge of the nation’s affairs most of the time, Bubblegum could continue to sit on the sidelines while Minerva’s grand repopulation experiment went on.

“Even if the war hadn’t happened, the human race would have had a lot of dangers to face up against, many of them self-inflicted. A pandemic could have been accidentally created, computers could have advanced into a dangerous new super-intelligent species, and so on. But the risk that I worried about the most was the one of us heating up our world to disastrous effect. Civilization was mostly run on fuel whose emissions trapped heat in the atmosphere, and it didn’t seem like this would change in time to stop a climate collapse from happening. Who knows how things would have went in the next decades if the war hadn’t happened.”-Simon Petrikov, afterword to “Compiled Findings on Mutations”

As BMO dug up a fox skull in the field near the Candy Kingdom, he noticed a slight change in the landscape as compared to one hundred years ago. Had the grass always been this dry in the summer? Had clouds and rain always been this sparse for these many days? Despite the large growth of the Ice Kingdom in the last few decades, the world overall seemed a little less cold than it used to be.

Despite this oddity, the Candy Kingdom, like most of the planet’s other nation-states, was now bigger and more impressive than it had ever been. The kingdom now looked a lot like the human cities from before the Mushroom War. Its old castle was overshadowed by large buildings, which had been created in place of the now demolished outer wall from the old kingdom. Most of the surrounding trees had been cut down to make way for these expansions, and it looked like Bubblegum was preparing to level off the mountains that still surrounded it. The massive robotic figure of the Prize Ball Guardian could usually be seen patrolling the kingdom’s borders.

To maintain all of this, Bubblegum needed to get resources from a lot of other states, sometimes even from the ones that had sprung up on continents other than Ooo. This was why she had lately been having so many meetings with Gibbon, despite the unstable tendencies that he had developed since he’d famously gotten his right eye replaced with a jewel.

“That’ll be three more crystal candies, then you can have your map,” said Gibbon. Bubblegum had been giving resources to Gibbon in exchange for printouts of the excellent space photographs that the Pup Kingdom had been able to get.

“I still don’t get why you’re charging me for these pictures,” said Bubblegum, handing over the candies. “This is important information that every leader should have.”

“You know how the world works now, Bonnie,” said Gibbon, handing away the papers. “People aren’t giving things away for free anymore, they’re always trying to get the best deals they can.”

After looking at one of the maps for just a few seconds, Bubblegum said: “this isn’t normal.”

“What isn’t?” said Gibbon.

“This ice has clearly gotten smaller,” said Bubblegum, holding up an image of one of the planet’s polar ice caps. “This has shrun compared to how it was fifty years ago. It’s a small change, but it’s there.”

“So what?” said Gibbon. “It’s not like that’s hurting anybody. Besides, you must have known this would happen when you started setting up your smokestacks.”

“You don’t know why I set those up,” said Bubblegum. “It had to do with a sensitive issue, an issue involving family.”

“Hmm,” said Gibbon, sitting for a moment to play with the candies. Then for a reason that Bubblegum quickly guessed, the influence from his jewel kicked in, and he started to shake.

“Mmm…mmm…momma!”

After he got it under control, he started to leave, scowling in bitterness and shame.

“Hey, it’s okay,” said Bubblegum as Gibbon went out of the door. “There are some things none of us can control.”

Bubblegum looked at the ice photo again, then looked out the window at the dried up landscape. The world was on its way to becoming a more dangerous place. It was time to take action, and she knew it.

Even at that point, Bubblegum had put off making any changes to the kingdom. But after a little while, she’d started putting in some measures to mitigate the situation.

At that moment, the only thing she felt she needed to do was set up an organization called the Department of Soft Power. At least initially, it was to be completely secret. And its purpose was to “let the people of the Candy Kingdom feel happier.” It put messages into the kingdom’s newspapers, radios, and television programs that would “enhance public confidence in the Candy Kingdom’s strength and security” and “protect citizens from psychological distress and false information.” This was what Bubblegum wrote in the department’s initial memo, at least. She would later soften some of the memo’s language, but the department’s mission remained the same.

And the subordinates she had chosen to run the DSP were fitting. None of the Banana Guards could grasp the information that Bubblegum wanted them to process (“how can we say the grass has always been this dry when it’s…not?” had been a recurring puzzlement). So she’d had to put humans in charge of the job instead, because humans knew how to reconcile the two truths that the DSP’s work required them to be exposed to. Bubblegum’s memos described these two categories as “semi-truth” (the one that claimed the weather had not always been this warm), and “candy-truth” (which stated that the weather had never changed at all).

So as of the 200th year after the humans had arrived, the Candy Kingdom’s historical records and media were to say that the planet’s temperature had been the same since the end of the post-Mushroom War nuclear winter over a millennium before.

But all of these were small details in the functionings of the kingdom, which remained free from legal restrictions on speech or from any kind of human-applied surveillance. Besides, observed Bubblegum, there were rumors that some of the human-controlled countries had started taking similar measures to keep their people happy. If they can do it, thought Bubblegum, why can’t I?

Seven hundred years later, things had gone in the best possible direction. It had started to get worse at first; despite the DSP’s attempts to comfort people, as the planet kept slowly heating up, resources started to shrink and crops began to wither. A few decades after the department’s formation, some humans had even started to create private activist groups dedicated to ending Bubblegum’s rule.

But just when Bubblegum was ready to take her mitigation efforts further, things had started to change. Those opposition groups, it turned out, were part of a worldwide network of people who had been planning to overthrow the dominant systems of civilization. They had believed that the worldwide normalization of coal and oil energy was “a way that’s failed,” and that it needed to be reversed. After some decades of struggles between this movement and the established institutions, the smokestacks had went away, and the planet had healed. By now, the climate was almost the same as it had been 900 years ago.

Rumors had long been present that the Full Circle Republic was the orchestrator behind the movement, or at least that Minerva had had some role in helping it. But Bubblegum felt no need to press Minerva on the issue.

In the meantime, the kingdom had continued to grow. It was now over a hundred times larger than it had been nine centuries ago, with skyscrapers towering far above the castle and millions of humans living among a now small minority of candy people. The architecture and technology from Founder’s Island and the Candy Kingdom had very nicely merged throughout this expansion project, making for a vast gleaming mesh of grey rectangular buildings and candy-shaped structures. Gumbaldia looked arguably even more spectacular, and its skyline was visible from the top of the Candy Kingdom’s buildings.

Bubblegum stood at the top of the kingdom’s sky needle and looked across the landscape. There was the vast and jagged wasteland that the Ice Kingdom had become; there was enormous tree in the field beyond the city, which had been planted right around when the humans first landed; there was Castle Lemongrab, which was the only state aside from the Full Circle Republic that hadn’t visibly changed in recent centuries; and there was the coast, which had noticeably expanded since the revolution came. This, she thought, was all she could have ever hoped for.

“In those last few years before I went into my long period of insanity, and after the war had forever taken away the world I’d grown up in, I was heartbroken. I thought I’d never see Marcy again. I was certain that Betty had been lost in the war, though some part of me always kept up the hope that she was still around. But instead of giving into my encroaching madness willingly, I decided to keep doing the mental exercises that kept my memory intact, doing my research, and thinking about those who I cared about for as long as I could. This was because even in the face of the inevitable, I felt the need to defy my circumstances and to do all I could to improve the world. What would I have been if I’d just given up?”-Simon Petrikov, afterword to “Compiled Findings on Mutations”

Through some freak political occurrence, things had reverted to their old, uneasy state. Throughout the last twenty years, increasingly powerful human figures had been seizing control of land, taking hold of the world’s media and governments, and carving out a new system that sustained itself by effectively enslaving large parts of the global population.

The decisive point had come ten years ago, when the fledgling northern state the Free Republic dropped two atomic bombs on the primary nation which had been challenging the transition towards the new order. Now the FR dominated the globe, justifying its endless drone strikes, bombings, and military occupations with the same statement that its president had used after orchestrating the nuclear attacks: “we trust that the spirit of civilization will tells us how to use the great powers we’ve gained.”

If a country didn’t participate in the FR’s business deals, that country would be at immediate risk of leader assassination, invasion, or worse. This was why Bubblegum had recently started paying for the oil and coal from FR companies, and why smokestacks had re-appeared in both Gumbaldia and the Candy Kingdom.

Yet while these and most of the other leaders in Ooo had taken the path of least resistance, Minerva was still refusing to burn a single pound of carbon. And she planned to keep it that way, as evidenced by the military demonstrations that the Full Circle Republic had lately been carrying out.

Since the republic’s army was minuscule compared to the vast military power that threatened it, it wasn’t surprising that the republic was rumored to be putting together a uranium stash. The FR’s latest president was not pleased, calling Minerva “a threat to civilization who will be wiped out by our righteous army in due time.”

But Bubblegum didn’t consider these facts too important at the moment. Her main goal was to get Gibbon’s maps so that she could have the knowledge to protect her people. And since their usual exchange had now happened hundreds of times, their current meeting had been going quickly; it was just a handing over of the crystal candies, a handing over of the papers, and no need for further discussion. Until Bubblegum said:

“Why are they doing this?”

“Why are who doing what?” said Gibbon, glancing at the blue crystals in Bubblegum’s hand intently.

“Why are some of the humans trying to gobble up all of the world’s resources?” said Bubblegum, putting the pictures in a folder. “Don’t they see how pointless it is when they look at the bigger picture around them? This isn’t the first time their species has reached a state like this…last time they did, entire continents got submerged. Radioactive zones got created that still aren’t habitable. Humanity almost went extinct. They’re playing their power games on a diminished playing field, in a universe that doesn’t care who controls this one little planet.”

“It seems like that’s just what humans do,” shrugged Gibbon. “If you don’t like it, you should have gotten them under permanent control while you still had the chance, like how I extinguish my citizens’ powers at birth. In both cases, all of them are born as dangerous as an atomic bomb.”

“Don’t question my commitment to stopping the evils that destroyed the old world,” snapped Bubblegum. “That have put some of the people in my family through so much suffering. The proliferation of these kinds of weapons is exactly what I’ve been trying to avoid these last ten years. Minerva just offered me a deal to arm this city with nuclear missiles, and I said no. Why? Because I’ll always see peace as the best option.”

“Noted,” said Gibbon casually. “Anyway, why even question what the FR is doing? It’s building up a great civilization, like how your uncle Gumbald did before he got himself turned into that pitiable little punch bowl. Dang, he did some impressive things up until then. Do you know I’ve modeled my kingdom’s emblem after his cool business logo?”

“No I didn’t,” said Bubblegum, rubbing her face tiredly. “The resemblance is subtle.”

After Gibbon left the room, Bubblegum didn’t wait even a second before she got to work.

In these last twenty years since that meeting, Bubblegum and her team of humans had been constantly on watch for statements which expressed semi-truth. If the statements were made on paper or in videos, they would be immediately edited in order to reflect candy-truth. If a person made these statements by voice, the DSP’s communications specialists would be sent to the scene to explain why the person was mistaken.

This worked well, until the mistaken persons had been found to be organizing into secret groups. Which was when the DSP needed to put out messages that emphasized a certain fact about the Candy Kingdom’s laws: anyone caught planning to try to overthrow Bubblegum, or to violate the laws she had made, were to be charged with either a felony or with treason.

In short, thought Bubblegum, nothing at all had changed, aside from the content of the information that the kingdom produced. This fact was what comforted her as she labored in her study for hours, day after day, responding to the latest instances of semi-truth and figuring out how to correct other things.

Twenty years after then, Bubblegum had decided to partially bring the cameras back. Hundreds of them had been placed around the kingdom’s borders, along with guard posts and a tall barbed-wire fence. Thanks to the efforts of the DSP, private security cameras had become a staple appliance throughout the kingdom, with citizens having been very effectively encouraged to install them in their homes. Rumors began going around within the DSP that there was a backhand channel for these cameras to be hooked up to a secret new surveillance system, but Bubblegum assured these concerned members that the channel would only be activated “when national security calls for it.”

Meanwhile, the semi-true version of history showed that sea levels were now almost a foot higher than they had been a hundred years ago. And Full Circle Republic reports had recently accused the FR of using sanctions to deprive the remaining disobedient nations of food. But for most people, believing candy-truth was the most appealing option when it came to the question of whether or not these kinds of things were true.

Twenty years later, the believers of semi-truth had gained a lot of support, despite their being organized only in marginal and powerless groups. Bubblegum had reacted by stepping up her messaging; videos were always being put out which showed the glories of their civilization, and which warned about the dangers of falling for “false news.”

While most of the world’s governments were now engaging in similar messaging efforts, Bubblegum’s continued allyship with the Full Circle Republic had made her an unreliable ally in the minds of the FR’s leaders. According to the rhetoric from FR media, Minerva’s “dangerous rogue state” was planning to send its new nuclear missiles across the ocean without any provocation. Bubblegum was called a “Mechiavellain coordinator” in this plot to “destroy civilization.”

Immediately after this, censorship within the Candy City was intensified, targeting any material that painted the FR unfavorably. In partnership with the FR’s cyber security industry, the DSP’s members engaged in microtargeting of sentiments deemed to be “threats to national security.” To root out what the DSP described as “spies and saboteurs,” pat-downs and house searches had again become normalized, and the DSP made posters to explain why these policies were necessary. “Civil wars don’t start with bullets, they start with words,” they warned under a photograph of Bubblegum looking at the observer with an expression of grim concern.

Another DSP poster showed Bubblegum giving the viewer a look of calm assurance, next to a caption saying:

“JOIN THE CANDY ARMY, AND THE KINGDOM WILL LAST FOREVER”

Nineteen years later, everyone knew it was over.

The crop failures, storms, and floods from a rising ocean had become too destructive, and the world’s leaders had worked out a solution: create artificial cloud seeding that would blot out the sun and cool the planet down. After then, it was assured, normal business would of course be able to continue. “We didn’t even need to reinvent the technology,” Gibbon had said to Bubblegum with a grin during their last meeting. “You created it for us all the way back in your tinkering days. Well done, Bonnie.”

As this unfolded, the world’s richest people created vast, heavily guarded shelters to ride out the looming period of ecological shutdown. Bubblegum had made her own shelter more than nine hundred years ago, and it existed in the form of the Prize Ball Guardian. She would protect all of her candy citizens inside of it, and she would give the human population plenty of housing and indoor farming tools for when they would separately migrate out of the city-which was a lot more than what most of the other world leaders were doing to help ready their people.

The cloud seeding process was planned to start in a year at the most, and all that needed to happen was for Bubblegum to sign the international treaty which included the Candy Kingdom in the transition. It was the best option she could have hoped for. Nonetheless, after Bubblegum signed the paper, she couldn’t help tearing up.

Later that day, Minerva gave an address where put forth data showing that the planet could be cooled even more effectively through energy model changes. Then she grew quiet and looked down-or at least did the uploaded human consciousness equivalent of looking down-and said, “I apologize, my people, for ever promising that the avoidance of these events would be guaranteed.”

Especially up against the backdrop of a now perpetually grey sky, the kingdom looked utterly eerie, like an entire civilization had recently lost its life all at once. And this was just what had happened; after Bubblegum announced that it was time to evacuate, everyone had immediately stopped what they’d been doing, picked up their things, and left for the self-sustaining commune in the wilderness that Bubblegum directed them towards.

Bubblegum’s family and citizens were in the Prize Ball Guardian, and only Bubblegum was still wandering the grounds of the old castle. She wanted one last look before she finally moved into the guardian. The sun peeked through one of the windows of the entrance hall, then disappeared just a few seconds later. Barring something unforeseen, it wouldn’t be back for many years to come.

Right as Bubblegum was about to leave, she heard a voice coming from the door that said: “Hiiii!”

“Hi BMO,” said Bubblegum. “Thanks for, uh…coming by to visit.”

“Like I’ve said, call me by new name,” said the King of Ooo. “And I’m here to ask your permission to loot.”

“It’s not like I can decide how it happens now,” said Bubblegum, “but yes, please take what you want. As long as you leave things for the other looters.”

“Thanks, and will do,” said the king. “One more thing-“

Bubblegum stopped as she was about to walk out the door.

“-I think you’ve earned a therapy session. Please, before you go, tell me how all of this makes you feel.”

Bubblegum paused, turned to the king, and said, “It’s not so much that this world has been destroyed. I’ve been expecting that to happen for a long time. It’s that the world has been destroyed by a species that I expected so much better from. I trusted the humans, and they betrayed me.”

“‘The humans’ didn’t betray you, any more than the forces of nature betray us for letting death happen,” said the king. “There are humans who do bad things and humans who do good things. And when something like this happens, the fault isn’t in the fact that humans exist. The fault is in the fact that people didn’t stand up for what’s good when they had the chance.”

“I don’t think I did,” said Bubblegum.

“Even if you didn’t,” said the king, “you’ll have the chance to the next time around.”

This actually made Bubblegum smile a little bit.

“Okay,” she said, walking out of the door. “I think I’ll see you again sometime later.”

On her way out of the city, she took out a can of red spray paint and wrote the words on one wall:

COMPLICITY

WHAT NOW?

HELLO

Bubblegum then went up into the guardian, took Finn’s picture of the Candy Kingdom out of a box, and hung it on the wall.

I’m countering the lies of capitalism and imperialism.