The Collective: Part 6

6.

Follow the Money

Lex stood in the center of a basement hideaway that smelled of damp mold. It was poorly lit by a few, LED lamps on tables and a desk. A large cable-spool formed a make-shift table between she and Rachel whom sat in a stinking couch. Its tattered edges said it was decades past its expiration date. Around the room were men and women dressed like Lex, blades at their back and eyes fixed on her attentively. The fresh scents of blood and sweat mingled with an organic putrescence that told of recent murder; at least a few of the group had been in the Garden, their blades recently wet with the blood of Calista’s snipers.

In the table’s center, a holo-projector splayed the faces of three people into the air. Rachel knew them all by reputation, if little else. Two men and a woman, all three well-known public figures.

“In order to bring the Collective to its knees, we need to stem their flow of money,” Lex said to the assembly. “The first target is this man, Ryota Tanaka.”

One of the faces took the place of the others. The Japanese man looked to be in his mid-forties, but the graying of his hair, and sagged corners of his eyes said he might be much older. Undoubtedly, he was one of the Collective’s elders whom long ago received the anti-aging drug, and halted their biological aging in its path.

“Hiro. Kaz. Tanaka is your mark,” Lex said to two of the faces in the room. “Each night he dines at the Kobe Ranch, one of the few non-synthetic cuisine restaurants left in the city. The place is largely empty, but heavily guarded. Be prepared. As soon as you enter, you’ll have his men on you.”

The man and woman bowed their heads respectfully to her. Turned for the basement’s exit.

“Ryo, and Yang-Lee,” she said to two men. The image changed again; the blonde woman in her late fifties with heavy, Anglican features from a Germanic heritage– or something near it. Lex confirmed it, “Your target’s the German investment banker Ava Martz. She will be meeting with her ex-husband to exchange their children at his apartment uptown. Yang, you will escort Mr. Martz and his children to Ava’s awaiting limousine and commandeer it while Ryo completes the hit. See to it that they’re taken somewhere safe and report back once the job’s finished.”

Yang’s scarred face had seen its share of violence, was obscured in shadow from a bow mirrored by Ryo beside him. They turned to leave, disappeared as Hiro and Kaz had. Lex scanned the remaining faces in the room, then her eyes fell to Rachel, “Ms. Dahl, you will accompany me to capture and interrogate this man.”

The final image overtook the others; a man in his mid-thirties. There was something vaguely Scandinavian in his ice-blue eyes, an almost formal-lethality to his pointed features.

“Ville Andersson,” Rachel said.

“Correct,” Lex replied. “Tell me what you know about him.”

Rachel sat forward to a whiff of mold, “Swiss banker. Youngest member of the Collective. He runs money through various would-be legitimate organizations and charities, all of which are tax-dodges. The Collective donates roughly all of their profit through him, allows them to evade any tax laws. Then, it’s stored in his private vault in the Alps.”

Lex was impressed. Rachel judged by the room’s silence that most others were as well. She refocused, “Very good. Then you understand why we must capture him and extract the vault’s location and security details.” Rachel swallowed hard, nodded. “Good.” She looked to the others in the room, “Rachel and I will secure Andersson and report what we learn as soon as possible. Until then, stay vigilant.”

With that the assembled parties dispersed. Most left through the basement entrance. The others sank deeper into its shadows or labyrinthine blue-print. Soon, only Rachel and Lex were left in the main room. Lex deactivated the projector as Rachel rose from the stinking couch.

“Alex–” Lex glared. She corrected herself, “Lex. Why me? Why not someone more capable?”

Lex was firm, sincere, “Because I don’t trust you alone with my people. And recognizing you will confuse Ville long enough for me to eliminate his security detail.”

Rachel chewed her bottom lip, “You killed my sister. Then you have the nerve to say I’m the one that can’t be trusted?”

The tendons in Lex’s jaw tightened, shone through what light dotted her face, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. You’re valuable– to us, and to the Collective. At least if you’re here, you’re more likely to remain intact. But don’t think for a second I won’t cut your throat if I suspect treachery.” Lex stepped past Rachel, shoved her way out the door and into the rain, “Come on, or we’ll be late.”

A quarter of an hour later the two stood beneath an awning in a central district of town.Neon and LED shines sliced through the endless, warm down-pour. Clearly whatever force controlled the Pacific’s Typhoon season had seen fit to unleash an early attempt to drown the city. In its midst, both Lex and Rachel were caught, the latter soaked to the bone for lack of the former’s leather coverings.

“What do I do?”

“If our intel is accurate, in five minutes Andersson’s limo will arrive outside that building,” she said with a nod to a massive, television broadcasting building across the street. “He’ll be ready to review the latest advertising numbers and ensure they match with his projections.”

“And you want to get him before he goes in,” Rachel surmised.

Lex replied with a sole nod, explained, “The attacks on the three Collective members will be synchronized to ensure any security response is chaotic, disorganized. With too many places to be at once, it will take the GSS that much longer to deploy.”

The two women went silent under the gentle cascade of rain and tinny downspouts that mixed with near-audible shifts of the LED screens above. Together the sounds formed discordant symphonies of nature and technology.

Distant tires splashed beneath a quiet, electric whir. Lex rocketed into the shadows of a dumpster’s alcove across the street, hunkered down to wait for her opening. The limo splashed into view, rolled up outside the station’s brightly-lit entrance. A door opened on the rear, passenger-side; three men stepped out with large rifles, formed a wall around the door. A lanky, blond-haired man emerged behind.

A subtle movement from the shadows Lex occupied signaled Rachel. She started forward in hysterics. She stumbled across the road, groped for and around the limo’s trunk. The rifles trained on her as she blubbered incoherent cries over the security detail’s shouts. Andersson recognized the more youthful of the Dahl Twins, waved off his guards to grip Rachel’s arms. Lex watched, waited. They exchanged frantic words, the security detail distracted with their eyes locked on Rachel.

Lex slipped around the corner, sidled along the building. No-one noticed her, not even Rachel. She sobbed about Calista’s murder, enthralled the four men. Lex moved from cover, drew her blades slowly. In a flash, two of the three guards were decapitated. Their feet slipped, bodies fell in writhing seizures. Blood spurted from stumps of former necks. The katanas angled back for the third man. A foot dislodged his balance. He smacked the limo’s side. The blades went into his torso, out again to shatter the vehicle’s side-window.

Andersson stumbled back, tripped over the curb. He soaked his back-half in a puddle as he scurried back on his hands. Rachel retrieved a GSS rifle, trained it on Lex. There was an obvious moment of conflict before she swiveled, aimed the gun on Andersson.

“Ville,” Rachel said. Lex stomped past, re-sheathed her blades. “We need to talk.”

Lex grabbed the man’s lapel, planted a heavy fist against his face, and knocked him out cold.

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