The Collective: Part 8



Lex stamped a boot on a rear bench-seat of a cargo van. Her body seemed gyroscopically stable against the Alps’ rough roads. She tightened her laces while Rachel jostled absently beside her. Her eyes had been empty since they’d left Japan. Full-days of boat and car-rides had gotten them across the Asian continent and upward into central Europe, but in all that time, neither she nor Lex had said much. They merely ate, stopped occasionally to rest, resupply, or sleep.

Now the journey was almost over. After they took the vault, they would rocket back to Japan, finish what had been started. The way forward however, would be no easy task.

The Collective housed their vault in the basement of a castle once belonging to a Swiss Baron– a literal dungeon dated to the late fourteenth century. The Baron had been murdered in his sleep by Hitler’s Schutzstaffel while his other forces made their French push. The insurgency however, was thwarted by the Baron’s security forces before it could become a full-blown Casus Belli and drag the country into war. Switzerland remained neutral but the castle changed hands more times than Lex cared to count– all of them greased by dirty money.

She sank beside Rachel whom hunched over in her coat against cold that leaked in. The engine and transmission strained beneath them, urged onward by a heavy foot. Yang-Lee’s scarred face peered back from the passenger-seat, “We’re close.”

Lex readied herself at the rear-doors, “Pull off the road. We’ll walk from here.”

Minutes later Lex and her team, Rachel included, began to hike the final, long twist of road that led to the castle. They emerged on the far-side of a wide curve. Mountains loomed with an ubiquitous boldness to their right and in the background, but the spectacle ahead was curiously level given its craggy surroundings. Jagged, tooth-like ramparts and walls formed a wide barrier between a courtyard and the road with turrets every hundred meters. Gray and white patchwork prevailed through-out the weathered stone-walls. Off-center, but even with the road, stood the gate in all its impenetrable stubbornness.

A man with a rifle patrolled along the wall, security lighter here than it would be inside. The place would be filled with armed GSS Emergency Response Squads– the most elite of the elite not deployed to external security teams. They would bleed all the same.

“Kaz,” Lex said to the Japanese woman. “Go.”

She needed no further instruction. The man had yet to spot them, his mind fatigued to complacency by boredom. Kaz was behind him in a flash, her feet silent. The only sound was that of the blade as it pierced his back, cracked his sternum, and emerged from his chest. He fell face-first into the snow, dead and bleeding.

Lex and Yang-Lee were at Kaz’s side as she stooped to rifle through his pockets. Rachel and Ryo approached, their heads swiveling. The former was more paranoid than the strategic latter. Kaz rose, a key-card and radio in-hand, passed them to Lex. She stuck the radio’s ear-piece in to monitor the GSS frequency, moved them up to an arched, wooden door in the wall beside the massive gate.

The key-card touched a panel beside the door, scanned a magnetic stripe. The door eased open on a small, quiet hydraulic. Lex stepped in, nearly blind from the relative darkness.

She kept her senses honed, whispered at the others, “The rampart will lead into a tunnel. From there, we follow passages to the vault. Stay sharp.”

Rachel was silent, unsure why she was even there. Though Lex assured her she would be safe, there were more than a few doubts to her sincerity. More than likely, she would be looked to for any unforeseen developments that might arise. The only explanation Rachel could surmise verged on wafer-thin; she might know how the Collective think.

Whatever the real reason for her presence, she kept dead-center in the line of bodies that stalked the shadows beneath the ramparts. Centuries ago, this place would have been filled with the stinking bodies of medieval soldiers ready to fight and die for their home or Monarch. Now, it was desolate, empty. Its wide, arched passageways were more a curious, historical oddity than anything. Most certainly they were no longer necessary as secondary pathways to the turrets above.

They managed to find the cross-chamber that led to the vault unimpeded. The retro-fits became more obvious as the group dodged the sweeping gazes of security cameras. Old, crumbled stone transformed to restored brick work, finally morphed into steel plating that covered the walls, ceiling, and floor, reinforced them against whatever intrusion had been thought of. Evidently the Collective didn’t expect anyone walk through the side door, much less with minimal force.

They found another, circular cross-chamber with a pillar in its center. It led around to three, other pathways. From the database Andersson had given her, Lex knew two passages led to the upper-levels and the castle’s Great Hall. The third then, led to the vault and the first of its security measures. Casual footsteps echoed over the sound of voices. Lex and the others hurried to back up, out of sight.

A German voice spoke patchwork English, “Herr Steinsson hat arrived.”

“Yeh?” An Irish man’s accent asked. “What’s ‘e want?”

Der Kommandant sagt es ist about die monthly inspektion,” the German replied.

The Irish man said something as his voice curved around the inner-portion of the cross-chamber. It began to fade away, trail off down the second passage that led to the upper-levels. Lex stealthed forward, double-checked the chamber, then urged the others back into place.

The first of the security measures began just inside the passage to the vault. It wasn’t immediately obvious, and in fact, Lex wouldn’t have known were it not for Andersson’s intel. The steel-plated floor was randomly pressure-sensitive with no external indication of triggers; a singular height and shined to a high-gloss.

Thankfully, “random” actually meant patterned in a non-obvious way. Much like a musical phrase, there were obvious repetitions with only mild variation, then wild variations on either end of the phrases that led into one another. Together, they formed a mental picture in Lex’s mind that would zig-zag her across the floor-tiles.

“Step where I step and nowhere else,” Lex said quietly.

She planted her foot on the first plate, reassured herself by putting her other down and standing still for a moment. She admitted a small relief to herself, then closed her eyes to envision the layout. Left two, up one, right one, up two, left two, up two, right two. She stepped through the first series of tiles. The others followed carefully. Their eyes darted between their own feet and those of the person ahead. Each step was a vise around their hearts that tightened the further they progressed.

At the right, ninety-degree angle the hall formed, Lex stopped, stared ahead. She knew what lay unseen, between her and the massive, three foot-thick, circular-door. She also knew what would happen if she blundered forward; the castle would go on lock-down. The vault’s entry systems would be isolated, locked out of the castle’s security network until remotely reconnected. Meanwhile all GSS assets in-country would be diverted to neutralize the threat while panels in the ceiling opened, emitted hydroflouric acid and methoxyflurane gas. In other words, they’d be awake just long enough to go into shock, then die from cardiac arrest while unconscious– or else live disfigured the rest of their lives in prison.

Lex breathed, prepared. She pulled a small, cylindrical emitter from a pocket, the size of a D-Cell battery, but black with a hard shell. Its bottom-half twisted to engage it. Then, with another, careful motion, Lex followed the zig-zag of free-plates to the center of an invisible laser emitter. She stooped down, placed another cylindrical-device that misted the air every few seconds.

Rachel watched faint outlines of red-lasers bowed upward above Lex. The others engaged their countermeasures, followed after her. The mist caught the edges of the next set of emitted lasers. They bowed upward, reshaped by the static-discharger in Lex’s hand as she approached. Rachel held her discharger, heart in her throat as they made a start-stop progression while Lex placed the misting canisters. At the line’s rear, Ryo retrieved each one, then proceeded forward. As the last of the mist settled and Ryo moved from range, the lasers relaxed, ensured the group they would be forced to leave as they’d entered.

Lex’s goal was within reach now. No-one would stop her– not even the men in the security room that monitored the vault from the cameras at either side of it. With a final, calculated step, she passed from the mine-field of pressure plates and onto a wide, singular section of floor before the vault door. It spanned at least as much of the door’s sweeping gait, more even, it seemed.

The others followed, disengaged their countermeasures. Kaz and Yang-Lee split for the cameras, cut open their insulated wires to splice small, box-like devices to them that magnetically latched to the cameras’ bodies. They backed away from their respective cameras; Yang-Lee stood sentinel at the edge of the lone plate, faced the way they’d come.

Kaz returned to Lex’s side, “We’re ready.”

Lex nodded, “Ryo?”

He stepped past for a large panel beside the door. A hand-print scanner was housed in a touch screen below a retinal scanner and voice-print lock. In addition, numbered keys said a code was necessary to breach the state of the art security. Ryo had none of those things. Instead, he produced slam-bore from his pack, punched through the panel’s half-dozen screws, then pried it from the wall. The panel came loose, caught by Kaz’s hands. It jostled as he fished through the wires, spliced them to a bundle of cable connected to a hand-held tablet computer.

A full minute later hydraulics hissed over a series of loud clicks. Giant, steel bolts grated metal on metal as they slid back, in. The group stepped aside for the vault door to ease open, reveal its innards and their bounty. They stood in awe for a moment– even Rachel’s eyes gleamed dully at the hundreds of tons of gold and platinum bullion. A smug, knowing smile crept across Lex’s face.

This was the bulk of the world’s economy. It made Fort Knox look like chump-change. Despite the comparatively small vault, the bullion here was two and three times as valuable as Knox in its heyday. What was more, it was the Collective’s only physical measure of wealth. Long before the Sleep paper money had become useless, but even digital currency required physical assets to remain fiscally solvent, its value relative to what backed it. With a well-placed explosive, Lex planned to destroy– or at least nullify– the Collective’s stock-piled wealth.

“Take only what you can without being weighed down,” Lex said as she entered the vault. “Don’t get greedy.”

They entered the marble-floored vault. Lock-boxes formed mausoleum-like walls around the massive carts of gold and platinum. Kaz and Yang-Lee went to work to hack more cameras in the room’s corners then joined in ransacking the carts. They filled canvas packs with as much metal as they could carry.

Lex took a wide path around the vault, set small, thermos-like devices in its corners: they could never destroy the vault, or indeed even the metal in it. What they could do was turn the room into a super-powerful magnet so strong it– and everything inside it– would deform. The devices would create a singularity of unrivaled proportions by building to critical mass. The vault would contract, re-fuse until no larger than an SUV. The molten ball formed wouldn’t cool for weeks, months even. The repository would be eradicated in one, fell-swoop, its value gone.

The group procured their metal, then readied to make the trek back. The vault door swung shut as the super-magnets’ timers engaged. In a little less than five minutes, they would activate, begin to build up their polar charges, and the chaos would begin. Lex moved quickly back across the safe plates, through the lasers, and into the central passageway.

The timer was already down four-minutes when they reached the pillared cross-chamber. Lex shoved her bag of bullion into Rachel’s hands, “Go with them, I’ll meet you in Tokyo.”

Rachel was suddenly irate, “What? Are you crazy? Where are you going?”

“Steinsson is here,” Lex replied with a knowing look to the others. “Viktor Steinsson is a member of the Collective. He can not be allowed to live.”

“Forty-five seconds,” Kaz said with a look to her watch.

Rachel argued over her, “You’re crazy, Lex, you can’t–”

“Get out!” Lex ordered with a caustic hush.

“Come on,” Ryo said, pulling Rachel along.

Rachel watched Lex as the seconds ticked down. She suddenly drew her blades, disappeared around the pillar. Rachel swallowed acid; as much as she’d been against Lex, she was the closest thing left to a friend. Between what the Collective would do, and her weariness at the others like Lex, she didn’t want to be without even the minor rapport they’d built.

Rachel’s safety was admittedly nearer in Lex’s mind than her own as she sprinted through the maze of main-passageways that curved around, back, straightened out, and widened again. Her blades gleamed while her feet beat a gallop along plated floors toward a pair of men. They turned in time to be cut down, cast aside from the passage’s center. Lex followed through without a missed beat. Her blades dripped trails along the zig-zag of stairs that led up to the Great Hall.

She exploded onto the marble floors just as alarms screamed through the castle. The magneto-bomb had been detected. In moments it would reach critical mass, destroy the world’s last repository of hard currency. Nothing could stop that now, but Lex wouldn’t have let it anyhow.

Orders were shouted all around the Hall, echoed through its expanse over boots that marched down toward the vault. Lex saw the castle’s blue-prints in her mind, knew Steinsson would be in the security room just off the right side of the hall. Her feet danced poly-rhythms near a door over a melody of steel cutting skin. She severed the jugulars of a pair of guards there. More began to appear, their attention directed elsewhere form the chaos downstairs.

She shoved her way through a heavy, wooden door. The narrow hall beyond was long, filled with doorways of various non-importance. Her goal lay dead ahead, behind an open doorway with bodies that moved every which way around chromed-out tech.

She made the door in a few steps, bolted inside with a flurry of movement. She whirled round, blades cutting. The commotion inside barely registered the deaths of three security techs. Steinsson turned, the glaring eyes accented the white of his thinning hair. His recessed hair-line made jagged points of already-angled features.

Lex’s blades thrust and sliced, incised and slit their way across the room. Her body followed, the entities inseparable in their blurred motions. Before Viktor could react, Lex’s brought the katanas’ hilts together in a deep lunge. The blades sank into him, pierced clean-through with a splatter of blood that painted an abstract on the wall and tech behind him. The blades slid out in time to spin, catch two GSS guards on either side beneath their helmets.

Blood spilled from freshly cut throats as she came about, blades in their downward-point. Three GSS officers stood across the room with raised rifles. They shouted commands in various languages over the wail of klaxons. She refused to flinch. A man fingered his trigger.

A burst of fire riddled his body from the doorway. A second cut down the man beside him. The third turned as Lex’s right-hand blade sailed through the air, into his chest at an angle. A third burst cut him down simultaneously. He fell, dead. The smoke of the gunfire cleared in time for Lex to catch Rachel in the doorway.

For a moment both women were too shocked to move. Lex shook it off first, sprinted forward, retrieved her blade then made for the door. She drug Rachel with by the shoulder until she regained her wits.

“I wasn’t going to come back for you,” Rachel panted, in-step with Lex.

“Not now,” Lex said as they entered the Great Hall for the castle’s main door.

Sunlight beckoned them forward from the open doors, kissed them with its frosty presence. The courtyard was empty. Distant metal grated, ground as something behind them exploded. Neither woman paused to look back. Instead, they rushed for a door in the wall they’d entered through, took the rampart’s interior in a few steps, then shoved their way back into the day-light.

Their chests heaved, feet slipped on icy snow, caught traction on the road. Limbs pumped with aching muscles to launch them down the mountain, around the winding corner toward the awaiting van. Kaz had already angled it around, the back-doors open and the engine running.

Lex shoved Rachel inside as she climbed in, “Go! Go!”

The van started into a gallop, assisted by the road’s steep grade. The rear-doors slammed shut as Lex and Rachel pushed themselves up from the floor, fought opposing gravity to re-take their seats over a wheel.

Rachel swallowed hard with a look to Lex beside her, “We… actually made it.”

Lex gave a long sigh to recompose herself, “Yeah. We did.” She glanced at Ryo across from her, “The metal?”

He looked sideways at the pile of bags that clanked and clanged from the road’s twists and turns. Lex threw her head back, relieved, and leaned against the van’s wall. Her head rolled along her neck to meet Rachel’s eyes.

“Thank you.”

Rachel winced, grimaced. Then, with a small nod she replied, “You’re welcome.”

Missed Part 7? Read it here!

The Collective: Part 7



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.


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.


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 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.

The Collective: Part 5


The Exchange

Lex stood in the park’s center, beneath a clearing in the trees that made her visible to any possible angle a sniper could have in the buildings above. It was a show of strength and lack of fear; even Calista wouldn’t be so stupid as to take a shot before Rachel was secure. Beside Lex, stood the captive with her hands still bound, looking none the worse for wear. She rubbernecked the building-tops with a furtive glances and fidgeting nerves. She’d never seen anyone murdered, didn’t care to start now. All the same, Lex stilled her with a word.

“Stop,” she instructed sternly. “You will be fine.”

Rachel was adamant, almost begging at light-speed, “Look, I know who you are. I knew when I saw you. If you let Calista move her men into position, they’ll kill you! You don’t need to seek revenge. You’re smart, talented. Don’t die over some petty grudge.”

Lex’s eyes met Rachel’s. With a shuffle of fabric and metal, Lex drew a sword from her back, brought down. Rachel swallowed hard. The blade met the binds on Rachel’s wrists, cut them free. She nearly fainted as the sword fell to its downward-point, joined soon after by the other.

“I told you; if I’d wanted you dead, you’d have died in your bathroom,” Lex said as she faced the forward area.

Rachel rubbed her wrists, “Alexis, don’t do this.”

Lex’s eyes narrowed, grip on her blades steady, “Don’t call me that.”

“Please,” Rachel argued. “I see it in you. I know you want revenge for your parents, but it wasn’t Calista that did this. It wasn’t any of the people you’ve killed or plan to.”

Lex’s tongue was acidic, her eyes forward, “Quiet. They’re coming.”

Protest perched on the edge of Rachel’s lips but her eyes followed Lex’s. Calista appeared in gleaming heels and jet black, silken skirt and blouse. She followed the downward slope to the central garden with a saunter that owned the place, was above it. Undoubtedly her sniper’s were already in position, but she made no inclinations toward them. Instead, she stepped, one foot before the other over the soft clicks of heels on earth, stopped just out of reach of Lex’s blades.

Smart, but not smart enough. Lex smelled her fear, a terror that said perhaps the snipers weren’t enough. If only she knew.

Calista’s face finally emerged from the shadows thrown cross-wise from old, dirty flood-lights and Tokyo’s general aura. The lines and bags of her eyes had doubled, expertly hidden by more make-up than any woman should own. Somewhere beneath all the cover-up and faux-toned blush was a good-looking woman, albeit aged. The beauty was as lost as any claims she had to mercy.

Calista recognized Lex with a serpent’s smile– wicked and cold, “Alexis Thorne, murderer. I knew they should have never let you out.”

Lex was quiet. Rachel begged, “Calista, don’t. We don’t need more blood. Leave.”

“Shut up, Rachel,” her sister barked, eyes locked on Lex’s. “The whole world’s seen what you did to Li and Kay. They had to clean Li’s intestines off the side-walk with a shovel.”
A corner of Lex’s mouth tensed smugly, “It’s a good look for him, if you ask me.”

“No one did,” Calista countered. “In fact, no one knows it was you. Not officially. So whatever message you meant to send is lost.”

Lex’s head gave only the smallest tilt, barely visible, “The people don’t need a message, they need a wake-up call.”

“And you believe killing me will do that?” Calista condescended.

“Among other things.”

“Rachel,” Calista said, eyes never leaving Lex’s. “Go. There is a car waiting outside the park.”

Rachel refused to move. Lex finally cast her a look, affirmed with a nod. Rachel began to inch forward. She was just past Calista when a single shot rang out through the park. In a blink, Lex was in the air, blades spinning with her. Calista breathed; the shot was off. Something had happened to the sniper team. She should have known, prepared. In a flash, she had a pistol out. Lex landed her front-flip just as the gun leveled on her. The blades went up, in. The woman’s body hunched forward, half-suspended. The gun fell from a limp grip.

Lex snarled an inch from Calista’s face, “You should have stayed hidden.”

A sound of bone crunching gave way to a gasp. The blades spun a quarter-circle, wrenched through organs and ribs, slipped out with a river of blood. Calista fell to her knees, crimson flowed from her mouth, down her chin. She slumped sideways, dead.

Rachel was frozen, had turned in time to see the gun slip from Calista’s waist-band and everything after. She hurried toward a Japanese maple, fell to all fours and vomited. Lex stooped down for a clean swath of Calista’s clothing, wiped the blood from her blades. She rose, sheathed the swords, then made for Rachel near the tree.

The newly singular twin fell sideways, her back against the tree. She wiped her mouth, couldn’t bear to let her eyes grace her sister’s corpse ahead. It was too much. She’d been a twin her whole life, and now, she was nothing. She and Calista were even closer than sisters could be. Every important moment of their lives had been shared. Now she was dead. Rachel was alone.

Lex knelt beside Rachel with a metal flask from her coat, “Here.” She unscrewed the top, “It’ll help. Trust me.”

Rachel couldn’t think. She took the flask with an autonomous movement, downed the pungent liquor inside. It was something old, vintage, nothing like the synth-ahol they made now. More than likely Lex had raided an old distillery, or even someone’s basement. All the same, it warmed Rachel, settled her nerves enough to think. It was good; Lex needed Rachel to think, but rationally, not emotionally.

Her voice was calm, softer than normal, “Listen to me Rachel; you’re in shock, but it’s important you listen.” Rachel nodded autonomously. “Good. You only saw this because Calista ordered her people to kill me with you still around. She had no intention of honoring the deal, trading herself for you. She was ready to risk your life for her own. I’ve no doubt if it truly came to it, she’d have chosen herself over you. Somewhere inside, you know that. Accept it. Now is the only time you can. You’re going to be angry soon, at me, but at her too. You’re going to wonder why she did this. The truth is, it was because she was selfish. Nothing more.”

“Sh-she… was my sister,” Rachel breathed.

Lex leaned in carefully, “And that meant much more to you than to her, Rachel. Accept it.” Lex rose, straightened, “You have a choice now, one no-one can make for you, but that you must make soon. You can come with me, help me fight the Collective, or you can return home. If you do leave, you have to accept that any protection Calista’s kinship afforded you is gone. More than likely, the surviving members of the Collective will have you arrested and interrogated. If you know anything about their methods, you’ll know it’s torture. I can offer amnesty. They’ll offer treachery. The choice is yours.”

Lex turned away, began the walk back across the garden for the shack they’d occupied. As much as she’d been wrong to kidnap her, Lex’s predictions had been accurate. Combined with the obvious logic in her assertions about the rest of the Collective, Rachel saw little recourse but to follow Lex. Otherwise, she’d be subjected to more, unimaginable horrors than anyone had in decades. Whether or not Calista had done so out of malice, or sheer ignorance, Lex was right; she’d risked her sister’s life for selfish, self-preservation. It wasn’t a stretch to believe she’d have sacrificed Rachel entirely if it came to it.

As difficult as it was to admit, her sister had been ready to kill her to live. The only real choice left now was whether to put her anger where it belonged; on those that had turned her sister into a sociopath. The Collective might as well have put the blade in her themselves. They’d rotted away Calista’s mercy, innocence, and more importantly, her compassion. Were it not for their influence, the world might be better off. Perhaps Lex was right about that too.

Rachel took another swig from the flask, winced at the fire it set in her mouth. She rose on weak limbs, stumbled back toward the shack. She only kept herself from falling in to it by firm grip on the door. She slammed it behind her, swayed with a sickness in her limbs and gut.

Lex watched her feet plant, back straighten, “Alright. I’m in.”

Missed Part 4? Read it here!