Short Story: For Family

It was insanity. It was complete and utter insanity. This had to be the most stupid thing she’d ever done. And for the most stupid of reasons. She steadied herself on the front bumper of the car, held on to a windshield wiper. People’d been killed less stupidly.

At least if she fell at this speed, she told herself, death would be quick.

Somehow, it didn’t make her feel better. She wasn’t sure anything could, not at the moment. Maybe a bubble of down-soft mattresses around her. Probably not. Otherwise, the universe could call all their debts even so long as she didn’t die horribly– even dying non-horribly wasn’t off the table.

She swallowed hard, feeling the car’s engine explode with power. It raged forward, spurned by the foot of the fuming creature behind the wheel. Kris had never exactly been collected, but this was insanity. Stupid insanity. All of it.

If Kate hadn’t been insane enough to get involved with the gangers, this would’ve never happened. If Syd hadn’t been insane enough to still love her baby sister, she wouldn’t be hanging on by a wiper blade. If big brother Kris wasn’t insane, period, he wouldn’t be forcing her to. Most of all, if their parents weren’t insane, Kate might not have developed her insanity, and wouldn’t be just out of reach in the econo-van rapidly approaching their front-bumper.

The more she thought about it, the less she knew what the hell came next. Kris’ foot was to the floor. The car was gaining. Soon enough, she’d have to decide if she wanted to attempt something. As to what, she didn’t have a clue. All of this was played by ear. Obviously. Who the hell planned hanging off the front end of a rapidly moving vehicle. If she had planned anything, it would’ve been driving. Not hanging. Kris could’ve done the hanging.

Instead, here she was– in arm’s reach of their sister and the stupid fuck trying to kidnap her. Or who had rather– wasn’t much further to go on that, really.

Kate had always had drug problems. They all had their vises. Family problems were as genetic as the genes themselves. Kris liked to gamble. Syd drank like a fish. Kate smoked, snorted, or shot just about anything and everything she touched.

She’d always been safe about it– mostly. She’d contracted Hepatitis from bad needles. Not her fault, really. The needle exchange’s supplier made a mistake. It was a big one, ended in lawsuits that Kate had benefited from. She immediately took her cash payout to get high off of and had been coasting off it ever since. It was a lot of money, after all.

Likewise, Kris’d had both his legs broken by bookies. Not at the same time mind you, but it got the point across… for a while. Syd woke up in unfamiliar places more often than not, expected to start puking blood any day. She hadn’t decided if she’d stop drinking then or start drinking harder.

They’d have blamed their parents for their shitty lives if they weren’t so certain that, by now at least, it was unfairly beating a dead and less blameless horse than they’d like.

None of that prepared them for what was happening now. If Syd bothered to stop and think, or had time to, between the car’s first nudge of the van’s bumper and her reactive leap between them, she’d have realized how absurd the whole situation was. Kate was an adult. She could do what she liked. Including junked-out, maniac gang-bangers. It wasn’t their business. Both Syd and Kris knew that. But since when was sibling-anything ever rational?

Sure as hell not now, Syd knew. Or would’ve thought, if she weren’t clinging to the very razor’s edge of the van’s rear, double-doors. Her nails were splitting the weather stripping. Her finger tips stung from inflamed needles shooting agony through her hands. Her grip tightened. Knuckles whitened. Fingers went purple at their edges. Her feet caught the bumper and in a flash, Kris revved up and past to the van’s driver side.

Syd had only just gotten her footing when the van lurched right.

“Kris! You stupid fuck!” She shouted into the wind.

She regained her footing, only to lose it again from another lurch. She clung on by a lone set of fingers. Kris was ramming the van.

“You idiot!” She screamed, feeling her fingers bleed.

The van lurched again, forward this time. It gain an inexplicable burst of speed. Between it and the oncoming traffic, Kris was forced back behind the van again. Syd screamed and shouted at him, regaining her footing a last time. He seemed to understand the stupidity of his own actions, didn’t care. As soon as he could, he surged around and past again. Syd cursed his name, his life, and her own stupidity for being here. Then, she did the only thing she could think to.

Her free arm reeled back. All the force of the bar-brawling drunkard she was shattered the door’s window. Blood instantly streamed down her arm, her coat, the door, rained into the wind. Kris rammed the van again, but she had a better hold, however painful. Most of all, she had a burst of fury. She threw open the second door, and hurled herself into the screeching van.

The next few moments were hard to follow, even for someone sober. Syd barreled through the van toward her sister, drug-addled but in a terrified daze on the floor. Syd’s drunkard’s-legs engaged from her idiot brother’s head-butting. Then, in a moment she was sure would’ve killed them all, her bloody hands slammed the junkie’s head against the dashboard.

Syd had just enough time to grab the wheel before the van lurched, angled right, and tipped. She saw the last few hundred feet of the van’s momentum from a tumbling view progressing backward and around through it. There was also, in a glaring sort of way, the obvious, ongoing road rash of the junkie boyfriend’s head and face; gravity had wedged it through the shattered window and dented driver’s door.

Even before the tumbling world came to a halt, Syd knew the guy was dead– though her own status was undetermined. Dragging herself, and Kate, from the back of the van, she found Kris waiting. Only then was Syd sure she yet lived; there was no way they’d all three gone to hell at exactly the same time.

Kate swayed, another junkie on drugs and completely oblivious to the severity of her circumstances. Syd swayed too, but from a daze more excusable than Kate’s. By now, the junkie boyfriend’s face was mush between window and ground.

But that didn’t stop Kate from shouting through the back of the van, “It’s over, Shane! Don’t ever call me again!”

She swaggered over to Kris’ car and fell in to the backseat. Syd and Kris exchanged an incredulous look. Kris sighed and headed for the car.

“You’re welcome,” Syd muttered, though Kate wouldn’t have cared anyhow.

As if on cue, Kate yelled something fittingly foolish.

Syd threw her head back to confront the starry sky, “The shit we do for family.”

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!