The Collective: Part 7

7.

Interrogation

Ville Andersson hung from a chain under a leaking water pipe. Between the rancid water that ran down his exposed upper body, the puddle beneath him, and his still-wet pants and socks from the rain, there wasn’t much of him left dry. Lex planted a heavy slap across his face to rouse him.

He shook awake, “What the hell? What’s going– who d’you think you are?! Let me down at once!”

Another slap silenced him. Lex stepped back into the cross-light that filled another, nondescript basement in yet another abandoned tenement. Rachel angled between the two from the right, a chair in her hands. She swallowed hard, set it to their left. Fear and regret infected her as she stepped back with a pair of jumper cables in her gloved hands. The cables snaked to the chair, connected to a new-age high-strength car battery there.

Andersson eyed the jumper prongs in Rachel’s hands, “You must be joking. Filthy pig!

Rachel shook her head. Lex slapped Andersson’s face again, refocused his attention on her, “The battery isn’t enough to kill you. However, if your body is electrified long enough, your nervous system will fry. Even after the current’s removed, you will continue to feel pain. Your muscles seize. Your pulse becomes erratic. You struggle to breathe, but can’t. You want to scream, but only gasp. Your Jaw clenches. Teeth grind.” Lex took a step back, “If you’re lucky, your pain receptors will blow-out before it is over. You’ll go in to shock. Only when your brain starts to shut down will the agony finally end.” Lex removed a massive, fluid-filled syringe and needle from an inside pocket of her jacket, “That is, unless someone shoots you with adrenaline.” She lifted the syringe, made sure it was a focal point between them, “Straight in your heart.”

Andersson swallowed breathlessly, “ Wh-what do you want?”

Lex’s eyes narrowed slightly, “The location and bypass measures for the Collective’s vault.”

“How d’you– No, no I can’t,” he said with a fearful shudder.

Lex sighed, crossed her arms, then nodded to Rachel. She trembled, flinched as she sparked the prongs together. Andersson protested, pled. The clamps spread wide with a forward step. She thought to hesitate– it was this or Lex killed her. If she left, the Collective killed her. It wasn’t a choice, just a different form of torture. At least Ville’s was obvious.

Charged steel touched Andersson’s skin at his chest and hip. His mouth opened to scream, rasped instead. His body writhed, shook. The current locked his jaw. Freshly cooked skin perforated the air. Rachel fought to keep her stomach from climbing her throat. Her arms made micro-moves to keep the prongs on Andersson. He juked, spasmed, seized. She kept conscious; her treatment would be worse, at least this proved her usefulness.

“Enough.”

Rachel almost fell backward. The prongs lifted, spread apart. Andersson dangled, helpless. Errant shocks still arced over him. His jerked and twitched with whimpers. Scorch-marks of red, over-cooked skin had yet to blacken or peel.

“The vault, Ville,” Lex said calmly. “We know it is in the Alps. Its coordinates and bypass protocols and this ends.”

His jaw chattered from the electricity’s effects, “I-I c-can’t. T-they’ll k-kill me…”

Rachel winced, met Lex’s eyes. She gave a slight nod. Rachel steeled her throat against the bilious rise from her gut. Her hands re-fixed their grip on the prongs.

“N-no. No!”

Andersson’s cries turned to a sustained growl. Current rocketed through him. Blue spines emanated in waves across his skin in water from the pipe above. Jaw-muscles clenched. Enamel ground. His legs and shook until Rachel was sure she’d lose contact.

“Stop.”

Rachel was woozy. She returned to her spot beside the chair. Lex took a few steps forward, put a pair of fingers to Andersson’s neck. In one motion she uncapped the syringe, jammed into his heart, and shoved the plunger in. His body tensed with a rasping scream.

He was suddenly fully alert, “Okay, I’ll talk. I’ll talk.” He sobbed, “You’ll… n-need a p-pen.”

Andersson was true to his word. He began to talk, at length. He needed no further incentive. Evidently the adrenaline had been as bad as Lex remembered. Or perhaps the Swiss man was merely less robust. He revealed the coordinates and vault security protocols all the same. Rachel scribbled his words on a few sheets of paper, along with a remote IP address to download the vault’s specs.

“T-that’s it,” Andersson finished. “Th-that’s all there is.”

Lex nodded, “Very good, Ville.” She drew a blade from her back.

“B-but, I gave you everything you wanted!”

Lex’s eyes were cold, “Not everything.”

The blade whirled. Her arm extended. Steel plunged into his heart. His body gave a final twitch, then went limp against its binds. The blade withdrew, whirled. Blood splat across the back-wall.

Rachel stared. She’d suspected Lex would kill Andersson regardless. Between what Rachel had done herself, and what Lex assured she’d suffer if she resisted, she’d entered a sort of autonomous fugue state. She was aware of the atrocity she was committing, but somehow it was now all the more real. The papers shook with her hands. Her throat bubbled acid.

She sprinted for a distant, dark corner of the room, fell to her knees. The sound of retching heaved acid from her empty gut. Bile stung her sinuses over putrescent mold. The sickly combination fueled her dry-heaves. Rachel forced herself to come up for air, the wet basement’s stink too powerful. Her knees trembled as she rose. Lex re-sheathed her blade, collected the papers.

“I-I c-can’t do this,” Rachel stammered.

Lex’s methodical actions remained unhindered, “Are you reneging on our deal?”

Rachel swayed into a clumsy walk to approach Lex, “What deal? You mean turning me into a monster in place of killing me? Or sending me back to the Collective to have them kill me? Where’s the deal there, Alexis? Where’s my incentive?”

Lex remained collected, “I’ve told you before, my name is Lex.”

Rachel grit her teeth. Tears welled in her eyes, “You’re just going to use me until I’m not helpful anymore, then kill me anyhow. Even if you don’t, you’ll send me back to the Collective, make them do it for you. So where’s my incentive, Alexis?

Lex made a move that Rachel was sure would end her life. Instead, she found herself nose-to-nose with her, “My name is Lex. Your people made sure Alexis died in prison, falsely accused of her parents’ murder.” Rachel’s breath trembled, hot on Lex’s face. “Have you ever been in a Collective Prison for dissent?” Lex’s eyes sharpened with her tongue, “Do you know what they do to people they can’t turn into Sleepers?” Another breath trembled, mixed hot air with the basement’s cold on Lex’s face. Rachel’s eyes clenched shut in terror. “Trust me when I say, Andersson’s torture was a reprieve compared to what they did to us– to me.”

Lex straightened, increased the distance between them. Rachel’s eyes flitted open, but remained down-cast, petrified.

“Every breath you take from this moment forward is a gift from me, Rachel Dahl,” Lex said harshly. “You may not have been my captor, but your negligence allowed me to be theirs. Trust that if I wanted you dead I would not hesitate to kill you. One day, you will recognize that. With it, you will see you’re only alive because your crimes are not irredeemable. Only then can you begin to seek redemption.” Lex turned to leave, “If I were you, I would do everything to ensure I retain that opportunity.”

Missed part 6? Read it here!

The Collective: Part 4

4.

Sibling Rivalry

The GSS team breached Rachel Dahl’s apartment with the same master code Lex had used. Late afternoon sun now shone through the hall’s window. With the GSS squad was Calista Dahl, whom entered and ordered the men to fan out, search for her sister. Contrary to her way, Rachel had missed work. With the deaths of Li and Kay still fresh, it was obvious something had happened to her. When she reached the coffee table, Lex’s recorded hologram engaged.

Lex’s hooded silhouette stood with Rachel before her, a blade out and poised against the woman’s belly to show Lex’s menace. The hooded figure began to speak, her voice garbled through encrypted filters to slow the GSS’ eventual analysis. It came through deep, as though she were half machine, half human, with emphasis on the masculine end of that spectrum.

“Calista Dahl; you stand accused of crimes against the people. Your sentence is death. Your only choice is to come quietly or watch your sister die with you. The terms are not negotiable. At the end of this message, an address will appear, come alone or she dies.”

Lex and Rachel fizzed out of focus, fell away in static to a few, stationary lines of text. The address was somewhere on the edge of Tokyo, just outside the city’s concentrated innards. Calista knew it well; the land was open, flat, with plenty of trees for cover. Distant buildings and their orientation made for poor placement of any long-range security details in all but a few spots, but she was certain the area had a maze of sewer lines that led into them. Her people could approach unnoticed, but the question remained of if she wanted to risk Rachel’s life. When faced with her own, certain death, her answer was emphatically yes.

Across Tokyo, Lex kicked open the door of an old, bamboo and grass shed. It had been designed to blend into the garden park. Once the home of a tender, his job, livelihood, and purpose had been stolen from him by the Sleep. He hanged himself in the center of the small, one-room hut, was only after days of baking in the hot sun made the stench so foul the park’s visitors took notice.

Lex was there when they cut him down. She’d been a devotee of the garden’s calming nature since before her incarceration. The old, half-blind and hunched grounds-keeper’s death was a proverbial cherry atop her frothing cream of hatred, spite. The Sleepers knew not what they did, weren’t to be faulted. Like all humans, they’d merely succumbed to their desires. Unfortunately, unlike most humans through history, they could be given no reprieve, nor even hope that they might lift themselves from the throes of addiction. It was, like most things nowadays, nearly impossible to wake the Sleepers without some sort apocalyptic event.

Lex drug Rachel to the shack by the binds around her wrists, tossed her inside and across it to kick the door shut. Rachel collided with the wall of rusted garden tools, hands out to save her face from being impaling by a claw-rake. She immediately rebounded with it in hand, swiped at Lex. Her arms were up. Lex pulled it forward with Rachel, whom stumbled to her knees. Lex’s fist collided with her face. She fell sideways in the dusty floor, bleeding from the lip and weeping. She sobbed, screamed, cursed. Lex replaced the rake, calmly pulled Rachel up.

“You’ll find attacking me is useless,” Lex warned. “I am faster, stronger, and smarter than you. Do as I say, and you’ll go free.”

“Liar!” Rachel shrieked with a raspy breath. “You’re crazy! You’re just gonna’ kill me anyhow!”

Lex pulled a chair from a corner of the room, scraped it against the dusty, cement floor, set it down with its back toward Rachel. She threw a leg around it to lean against the chair-back, look down on Rachel.

“If I wanted you dead, I’d have killed you when you opened the door to the bathroom,” she reminded. “Now, either quiet down and listen or I’ll gag you.” Rachel’s head hung sideways as she quieted, wet sniffles audible every few seconds. “Good girl. Now, there’s something we need to straighten out before we go any further– the notion that I am crazed.”

“You are,” Rachel argued with a tremor.

“No, no, no,” Lex said emphatically. “It’s important you understand that I am not, or else what’s happening won’t have proper context. This is like a composer in a world without music imagining notes, writing and playing them: in a world without music, the composer is a heretic, a loon, one that hears voices and sounds. In our world, he is a genius.”

Rachel angled a squiggled frown upward that punctuated her wet eyes, “Every nutcase thinks they’re a genius.”

Lex gave a long sigh with a shake of her head, “You’re missing the point.”

“I don’t need the context of a lunatic’s creation to know they’re insane,” Rachel spat. “You all have your stories, your reasons, and none of them change what you are.”

Lex watched her for a long moment as she leaned her chin against her forearms on the chair-back. The shack was quiet, tense. Rachel stared into Lex’s eyes, admittedly questioning her own judgment. There was something pained in them– somewhere beneath all the make-up, blood, and anger, a little girl wandered aimlessly for love, attention.

Rachel took a sharp breath, cast her eyes back on the floor. Lex nodded slowly to herself, “You know me– by reputation, if nothing else. I assume it was Calista, or your former position as head of the European Trade Union, that made you aware of me.” She took a breath, straightened in her seat, “Whatever it was, I know what you’ve done– what you did, anyhow. You went off the grid after you signed over your power– Europe’s power— to Viktor Steinsson and Ville Andersson– Swiss bankers extraordinaire.”

Rachel’s eyes rose again, more guilty than anything, “I did what I thought would protect the Union.”

Lex countered, “Or so you were led to believe.” She shook her head, “No, what you really did, and discovered for yourself soon enough afterward, was relinquish the only governmental control left to the Collective.”

“I didn’t—”

Lex was firm, loud, “You did!” Rachel’s throat squeaked from a sharp breath. Lex softened, quieted, “I don’t fault you for that. And in fact, provided you’re agreeable, you’ll be the only one of the Collective left alive when I am done. You are part of them in name only. I intend to coat my blade in the blood of the twelve, but I would rather see it be eleven if it means acquiring an asset. ”

Rachel was silent and still for a moment. Then, with a hard swallow, she met Lex’s eyes again, “Why?”

Lex rose from her seat to pull Rachel up, set her into it. She leaned against a table beside her, “Your sister’s crimes are irredeemable. To some, yours are too. But not to me. I know you were coerced, because I know your sister.”

She shook her head, “She’s not the monster you make her out to be.”

Lex leaned forward in a hunch, her arms crossed, “We both know she’ll sacrifice you for herself tonight without a moment’s hesitation.” Rachel’s eyes met the floor again, her hands twisted in the binds to tense against one another. Lex straightened, “You have a choice, Rachel. Maybe not much of one, but one nonetheless. Provided you choose appropriately, you will live. Either way, Calista will die tonight. There is no stopping that. It is inevitable. Imminent. Blood of kinship may mean something to you, but know it means nothing to her. If you look deep enough, you’ll see that truth.”

Missed part 3? Read it here!