The Collective: Part 10 (Conclusion)

10.

Retribution

Rachel had been right, the streets were total chaos. The diamond-formation the group took up as they walked was the only thing approaching order in all of Tokyo. Everywhere people rampaged back and forth, lingered on street corners, in building alcoves, each of them groggy, confused. Most were emaciated, death-camp refugees who’d only just escaped. It seemed too, every one bore at least some symptom of mania from addiction. They craved the ‘net like a junkie craved a fix, but there wasn’t a scrap of electro-dope to be found in all of Tokyo anymore.

The first armored transports they found were empty. Evidently the GSS had deployed before the pulse took out the city’s systems. Whomever had been en-route was no doubt now foot-bound, likely on the way to whatever rendezvous they’d been given. If Lex knew anything about the Collective’s two, remaining members, she knew the American head of GSS would be in-country to keep order.

James Hobbs’ cruelty was unmatched, by the Collective or otherwise. He’d been established the prisons and protocols for dealing with those that refused to sleep. He’d also ensured anyone whom survived those protocols lost a piece of themselves. More importantly, he personally saw to the interrogation and brutalization of Alexis Thorne.

He’d given her more than a few injuries himself. His own, bare hands, had intimidated and threatened her with every form of violence, and made good on some. Hobbs was a sadistic bastard Lex would ensure paid for his cruelties.

Finding him wasn’t nearly as hard as Lex thought it would be. Arrogance and over-confidence could be added to the list of the scumbag’s traits. He and his men had broadcast their location with gun-fire and explosions from a park-square near the city’s center. Lex and the others arrived at its perimeter through the herds that stampeded away like rats from a tidal-wave. What vehicles still worked formed a full barricade around the large square.

Marble statues gleamed like porcelain under flood-lights, powered by generators inside. The white-marble matched concrete walkways. Equally tinted, extra-wide planters were arranged around the flat square beside benches. Japanese Maples, Cherry and Plum Blossoms loomed beautifully over colorful hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, and morning glories. The palette of color on white was warmth against the black steel of vehicles and armed soldiers assembled or patrolling inside.

Lex had gathered her people for this. She’d sent runners to round everyone up. The ever-awakened made their way through the crowd on all sides of the square, marching as Lex was, Rachel beside her. In a moment, Lex and the others would strike with the fury of oppressed millions.

The crowd did its best to unwittingly thwart their advance, but each side reported through ear-comms. The city seemed to take a breath. Then, with the scream of APC guns, exhaled to fan flames of chaos and revolution.

The barricade of vehicles had turned on its owners. Twenty-five millimeter cannons diverted the tides of chaos from the crowd outside to the one inside. Generators exploded. Fuel lines spilled. Columns of fire sprayed in all directions. Ammunition caches were immolated. Stray bullets fired randomly, caused bodies to fall with those from the vehicles’ fire.

The square became a smoke-filled slaughter-house. The only light left was that of the vehicles’ muzzle flashes and growing flames. Men and women flashed through it. They tossed aside arms, fled, died, or huddled in terror. The APC’s guns beat a constant war-rhythm. Dying screams syncopated with splattering blood. The mayhem turned the newly-awakened into gawking statues.

All at once the guns went quiet. No-one on either side moved. All were still. Only a few cries from the dying broke the silence. They settled, soothed or dead, into nothingness. The last of the guns’ smoke rolled across the square, and a silhouette appeared. Blades pointed downward at its sides. A leather coat swirled behind it. Confident steps propelled it forward.

In the square’s center, a man rose from behind a planter, pistol in hand. The aged, graying features of the American hardened. His sweat-lined, dirt-covered face pulled taught defiantly. He emerged, outgunned and outnumbered, but with his weapon trained on the figure. A lean to his posture said he was ready to duck back if need be, but he sensed Lex’s presence was more a challenge than anything. She continued forward. Hobbs shouted throw down her weapons, warned of impending fire.

Rachel watched from atop an APC beside Ryo and Kaz. Another shout. Then, a three-count. A shot rang out. Both sides saw the silhouette hit. Blood sprayed shadows. Lex didn’t flinch. Ryo readied to radio for fire.

Rachel stopped him. “No,” she said, her voice pained, airy. “She has to do this herself.”

Hobbs yelled something Lex ignored. To either side she was merely a faceless warrior, a silhouette, as symbolic as anyone could hope for. No bullet could stop her now.

Another shout. A second bullet sprayed blood near Lex’s hip. She took the hit, fueled by adrenaline, warmed by leaking blood and vengeance. She marched in stance, blades hungry for their bounty. Awakened and soldier alike watched, afraid to breathe.

A grunt and a growl. Five more rounds littered Lex’s torso. Anyone else would have been dead. She should have been, but her body was no longer her own. It was fueled by revenge, justice for countless lost and aimless souls. An almost a collective gasp sounded when Hobbs emptied his magazine into Lex.

She kept walking. He was terrified.

In thirty years of special forces work, running GSS and its prison camps, and breaking its prisoners, he’d never once seen someone so wholly refuse to die. Her face emerged from smoke, stained orange and red from the fires at her sides. Her leather coat shined wet with blood while her clothing clung to her body, obvious even at-range. Fifteen holes leaked the last of her life from her, poor kill-shots each of them.

Hobbs cast the gun away, Lex at arm’s-length. He threw a punch. It was caught in her left arm. Her right sword’s hilt slammed his face. She twisted his arm until it crunched, dislocated. The right blade stab his left thigh, forced him to a half-kneel. His left hand grasped her left sword, managed to clench it. In a single move, the swords plunged through opposing flesh.

Lex didn’t budge. Hobbs’ eyes went wide. Blood began dribbled down his chin. With one, final rip, Lex tore the sword from her own abdomen. It thrust downward beside the other in Hobbs’ chest. His eyes rolled back. He slipped backward, dead.

Rachel bolted. Lex fell to her knees, slumped sideways, caught before she hit the ground.

“Lex!?” Rachel said, her composure cracking. She felt Lex’s blood coat her lower-half, “Lex? C’mon. No! No!”

A glimmer beside Rachel’s face twinkled in Lex’s vision, “Stars over Tokyo…” Lex met Rachel’s eyes. The last of the color drained from her face, “F-finish it.”

Ryo and the others approached slowly. Lex’s eyes shut with a final exhale. Rachel couldn’t help but nod, caress her hair while her eyes leaked tears. Her chest fluttered with sharp breaths.

She eased from beneath Lex, “I will, Lex. I p-promise.”

She laid Lex flat. The city eased into motion again. They closed-in somberly, soldier and awakened alike, to see the woman who’d defied death– even if for an instant. Rachel choked down tears, oblivious to the encroaching presence. She rose to her feet, legs strong as she stepped to Hobbs’ dead body.

With a resounding rip, she tore Lex’s swords from the body, “There is one member of the Collective left alive. We finish this– for Lex.”

***

It was a little over a month later. The awakened had only just begun to adjust to the world. Tokyo was already largely rebuilt from the chaos but the global economy was still in shambles. Most places were back to the barter system. Others were in full-blown civil war. A few however, like Monte Carlo were still civilized. There, most everything came on credit from fear or respect. It was only logical then, that the last member of the Collective had sought refuge in its coastal embrace.

He was a man older than time itself nowadays; Wei Zhou, former-chemist and researcher turned entrepreneur and billionaire mogul. He’d stumbled onto a formula to slow the aging process. He was the eldest, highest ranking member of the Collective. It had been his brain-child decades ago, before it could even be enacted. The man was cunningly clever, difficult as wet eel to pin down, and just as snake-like. The local mafioso protected him like their own, but even they feared the incise of dual blades.

Zhou sipped from a wine glass on a balcony that overlooked the Mediterranean sea. He wore a white sport-coat and slacks that blew in a mild wind above his tucked-in, black shirt. Between his sunglasses, panama hat, and the Gardenia in his lapel, he exuded all the intimidation and class of mafia Don himself.

He swirled the Cabarnet Sovignon in his glass, looked through it to check its color and consistency. The whole of the world around him was reflected in a deformed caricature, including a shadow.

He spoke french, “I said I was not to be disturbed.”

A hand whirled him around. His face met Rachel’s. The shock bucked the glass away. It shattered red wine across the balcony’s paver-stones.

She grit her teeth, “Alexis Thorne sends her regards.”

Lex’s blades pierced Zhou’s chest together. He fell to his knees, hat blown to the wind. He stared up, his white suit stained red. Rachel pulled the blades out. Zhou fell, dead. Rachel’s teeth ground with satisfaction. Lex’s blades whirled to fling blood away.

She turned to march away, comm active as she re-sheathed the blades, “It’s done.”

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