The Collective: Part 3

3.

State of the Union

Lex headed back to the alley she’d come from. There was no doubt one of the few monitor-lackeys left had seen the murder. Even if they hadn’t, the bodies draining of blood on the sidewalk would be found soon enough. She kept calm, chose to leave, not flee. She feared neither discovery, confrontation, nor death, but couldn’t allow any yet. She’d seen her blades coated in the Collective’s blood, each of them deserving of the most brutal tortures. They would receive mercy instead; swift death, a kindness they did not deserve, but that Lex had no objections in granting.

Before the Sleep, Lex had never touched a sword nor even manifested anger. She’d never spoken out of turn, really. The Sleep’s long, lulling effects had a way of turning even the most gentle of creatures into raging monsters though. For her, it began with a simple question to her parents; why they’d seemingly abandoned her.

They hadn’t, they said– they were always home, always available. In truth, they were locked in their V-R worlds, chasing super-models or humping stallions, or completing mindless, trivial tasks that kept their headsets and neural nets locked in cyberspace. Being a young, precocious child whom wanted to experience the world, Lex felt she had no choice. She wished to see her family laugh, love, be together again, not stagnate in vegetation.

When she finally lashed out, she was oblivious to a new set of laws enacted regarding the technology and tampering with it. From a technical stand-point, they made sense. The VR tech and neural interfaces were far too complex to allow those untrained to alter them. Anyone whom wished to do so with malice could easily configure the tech to surge, fry a person’s brain, or even inject viruses into the cyber-worlds visited through them. Perhaps if Lex had known that she would have done things differently, but being a teenager and more stubborn by the day, there were no alternatives to her mind.

The fateful night determined her life’s course, was always heavy in her mind. It manifested as her feet compelled her through the zig-zag maze of Tokyo’s once-infested alleyways and streets. Fresh rain splattered the sidewalks. She tromped through puddles, rippled their reflected neon pinks, oranges, and countless, LED screens that shined from walls or vacant doorways.

As any neglected teenager, Lex had been angry. She’d lusted for boys, girls, friendship, commitment, purpose but found none. When she wished and begged for aid, she was shut out for the suckle of virtual teats in the vain hope of even a single, lowly drop of Mother’s milk. It kept the chaos outside at bay, but couldn’t keep Lex from her rage. Her thick make-up ran constantly, like an aging glam-rocker on-stage too long and greased with sweat and water. Still, her parents remained in their worlds, content despite their daughter’s pleas. She was forced into action, spiteful of the addiction that had claimed them. They’d withered to mindless, masses of flesh, husks of their former selves.

She stole a fire-axe from the building she lived in, a remnant of the fire-department era. With it, she did the only thing could; yanked the V-R head sets off her parents, smashed them against the floor, then planted the axe into the rear of each chair where their power sources were. The shower of sparks from the last swing arced electricity off the axe-head, snaked up the metal handle and into Lex. She landed, half-fired and unconscious.

The damage didn’t fully reveal itself until she awoke in a hospital room, one of few places people still gathered at the time. Things had changed since the invention of auto-diagnostic software. Home diagnosis of every possible medical affliction was no possible through the VR setups. Coupled with subscription pill services, even a cancer patient never had to see a doctor. Everyone merely allowed their V-R machines to send out data to external servers. Medications were automatically prescribed, shipped in, and installed by specialized drones that entered people’s homes at will.

Full-service, free medical care was the future, and it took– just like every other vise that kept the Sleepers’ bound to their chairs, atrophied them with mental stimulation. Whether they believed it or not, Lex was fighting for them. Their awakening would happen, come hell or high-water. Her own awakening in the hospital however, ensured she would never be one of the Sleepers.

The blaring white of a sterile room infected her eyes with the stink of bleach. Combined with a morphine drip in her arm, the fumes forced nauseated waves through her. She tried to sit up, found her wrists and ankles chained to either side of her bed. With a wail, a round, sympathetic woman rushed in, tended to her.

When Lex inquired about her parents, the woman went quiet, hands atop one another at her waist. She looked ready to speak when the door opened on a woman in a black skirt and blouse. Black, square glasses framed cold eyes that recessed in her face with bags and lines of premature age. She adjusted them as she entered, flanked by two GSS officers with rifles in hand. The woman gestured the nurse out, prompted her to rush away, eyes hidden as the two men guarded the door.

The businesswoman stopped at the foot of the bed, ensured the malicious point to her features was visible, then spoke with an English accent, “I am Calista Dahl, legal representative for Global Entertainment. We received word today that two of our machines were hacked. Indeed, when our security forces arrived, they discovered they had been– hacked to pieces, by a foolish little girl with an axe.” Lex opened her mouth as if to speak. The woman was quicker, “Your parents are dead. Your little stunt killed them.” Lex’s face fell away. She began to sob over Dahl, “You would have died yourself if not for luck. You should have. But now you will stand–”

The cries irritated Dahl. She took a few steps forward, planted a lone, hard smack across Lex’s face, then forced her chin forward to meet her eyes. Lex went quiet, teeth grit against the grip.

“You are hereby accused of crimes against Global Entertainment and its properties, and separately, for the manslaughter of your parents. How do you plead?”

She released Lex’s mouth enough for her speak; Her eyes narrowed, jaw clenched. She spit in Dahl’s face, “Go. To. Hell.

The beatings and imprisonment Lex was subjected to afterward would have hardened anyone. Instead of becoming a psychopath or a complacent slave– either malleable enough to be put down– she refined her strengths, convictions, planned for her eventual escape or release. The prison cell she occupied alone was one of few still used. Her appeal was made automatically by algorithms that took into account every possible variable of her crime, conviction, and behavior, concluded she would no longer present a problem.

They were wrong. Autonomous systems were like that; able to account for every variable, judge and determine whatever they wanted, but in the end, they knew nothing of the “human element.” Respiration, brain-wave patterns, heart-rate, everything could be monitored, but it didn’t change a human’s intuition. Had anyone seen one of their species wronged, ready to respond as Lex was, they’d have never let her go. Doing so was a grievous mistake for the Collective. Had they recognized the importance of her inability to sleep, they might have saved themselves.

Instead, she left prison, found others whom refused to sleep. In time her plans were laid, and her training complete. She became a weapon of steel and flesh. Her sole motives to survive became eliminating her parents’ real killers– those whom planted the machines in their brains. She was going to avenge every single person who had lost something, everything even, to the Sleep. The why was simple enough. The how was a river of blood just beginning to flow.

She stepped up a curb in the rain with a light slap of a boot, pulled open a door to an apartment building. She already knew where to go; top floor, last apartment on the left. The GSS would have only just responded to the first attack, would require time to connect the messages left to the need of protecting the Collective. Any reality otherwise was just more blood for the river.

She emerged on the top floor. Chrome doors gleamed along the hall’s low-light, reflected multicolored iridescence of neon and LEDs from beyond a nearby window. Building-tops outside were punctuated by the cool, deep blues of touch-screen panels along the hall’s doors.

Lex was prepared, had memorized the GSS master-codes her people had pulled from their private servers. When she reached the last door on the left, there was nothing to stop her. It slid open on an apartment that, like every other dwelling in Tokyo, resembled her former home. The only differences were in the few, luxury items afforded by the wealthy owner.

Her feet were quiet, dry by the time she entered. A light glowed beneath the bathroom door, said her target was readying herself for bed– or perhaps work, as was the way with the sociopaths and sycophants that now ran the world. Whichever her target was, she wasn’t sure, but it couldn’t matter with what was to come to them.

The door slid open on the face Lex remembered from so long ago. The eyes were warmer now though, more youthful, vibrant. The expression of shock on the woman’s face said she knew who Lex was, but there was a cower to her cries. Lex grabbed her by the tied robe, threw her further into the main-room of the apartment. The robe fell open to expose her night-time nudity, unfurled on either side of her arms and legs. She slid backward for the door on her hands. Lex’s boot was quick, held her down with a heavy foot.

Lex’s blades sang as they slid from their sheathes, “Where is Calista?”

“M-my sister?” The woman choked with an English accent.

“Your twin,” she affirmed with a level tone.

“I-I don’t know,” Dahl stammered. “I s-s-swear. I h-haven’t known since she was promoted to head of Global Entertainment.”

“You’re lying,” Lex said, a blade rising to press her throat.

The woman cried, “I’m not. I swear. God, just leave me alone!”

Lex pressed the blade inward, forced their eyes to meet, “Rachel Dahl; where is your sister?”

She swallowed hard, eyes and voice wet with sincerity, “I don’t know– b-but I might be able to find out.”

The blade at Rachel’s throat went lateral, forced a flinch that trickled blood down her neck. With it, Lex’s head tilted, “How?”

She swallowed hard again, “Com-computer. Email. I c-can schedule a m-meet.”

Lex snarled. The blade twisted to a whimper, “I thought you didn’t know where she was.”

Rachel squeaked a cry, “I don’t! I swear. I just know how to c-contact her.”

Lex’s dilemma was clear in her eyes for a moment. The blades lowered into their resting position and her boot rose from Rachel’s chest, “Get up.”

The woman’s feet slipped and slid as she rose, hugged her robe closed, “Wh-what are you going to do to me?”

“You’re going to get dressed and come with me,” she instructed. “And if for even a second I believe you’ve contacted GSS, you’ll be cut into so many pieces they’ll never find all of you. Is that understood?” Rachel gave a single, timid nod. The katanas whirled, re-sheathed. “Good. Now play nice, and get dressed.”

She followed Dahl, watched her dress in what once had been called street-clothes; jeans, T-shirt, long leather coat, and battered running shoes. Lex pulled Rachel’s hood up, instructed her to keep her face hidden, then stepped for the living-room’s center. After a few moments, she dropped a small, personal recorder on the coffee table and escorted Rachel out.

Missed part 2? Read it here!

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