Short Story: Monster or Saint?

Heavy boots thumped a one-two rhythm across hardwood floors laced tightly to mid-calf with skin-tight, leather tucked into them. Wide hips from a plump back-side swayed as their long, muscled thighs and calves made steady progress across a wide room. It reverberated like an empty opera hall, almost echoed each step back at them.

From her belt, the woman dislodged a small device, slipped it over her middle and ring fingers with a circular attachments that palmed it in the rest of her hand. Her toned abdomen was visible in the exposed span between her waist band and half-shirt, contracted and flexed with heavy breaths and the exertion of muscle as her arm and shoulder lifted. They extended, the device in-hand pointed outward.

Ahead stood a man she loathed; he was parked in the center of a wall of gray stone that accented warm maple with as a drab thing of mock-beauty that framed the house’s rear. In it, a fire-place crackled and popped, cast opposing fire-light against the subtle sconce and ceiling lighted shadows that complimented the room’s darkened corners.

The man’s graying features were astute, blank, as though he sensed something heavy in her mind and walk. He could not have known how heavy. He was never one for human signals or pleasantries, but all the same remained mannered, almost polite even– as likely to shake a man’s hand as to slit his throat.

His one, empty hand rose as if filled, guided by the other with a glass of thick Merlot in it, “Evelyn.” His voice contained neither the slightest hint of paternity nor remorse, “So wonderful of you to join me.”

A thrum of electricity grew in her hand, triggered a roar. A beam of violet and blue plasma spit outward from the device, struck him dead center. He and the house’s rear wall disintegrated to dust. The sound was something like a wrecking ball colliding with cement while wood splintered, and rebar twisted.

She was through the smoke, outside without the slightest hint of regret or guilt. He’d have been proud of that, but then he was never one for pride– arrogance perhaps, but never pride. Pride was a weakness. One whom could be prideful was open to manipulation. It was just as foolish as his arrogance in believing he could keep a person enchained for twenty-one years. It was even more arrogant to believe such when it was his own daughter, or that she would continue to love him after he’d murdered her mother, used her as a test-bed for genetic manipulation to form “the perfect woman.”

“It will only hurt for a moment,” he’d always said.

The only thing near to regret in her was that she hadn’t made him suffer. His death had been quick. Not like her mother’s; a slow torture to extract information on whether or not she’d turned over his secrets to authorities. Evelyn remembered little of her child-hood, repressed as it was, but the look in her mother’s eyes as she pled for mercy was more than a memory. That image had a monopoly on Evelyn’s hate, all of her ire and pain contained therein. He’d put the bullet in her head himself, didn’t even flinch when his wife’s– mother of his child’s– blood splat across the hardwood with bits of brain and skull.

The pool-house ahead was already swarmed by his security detail. It didn’t matter. They were too late. They hunkered down along its sides and rear, took aim with high-powered rifles. A lift of her arm and a thought; the pool-house disintegrated, took limbs and whole bodies with it. Those that weren’t dead now joined the symphony of night-time chaos she’d triggered with dying screams.

She angled wide around the pool, caught the movement of three guards that sprinted along its far-edge. Evelyn stopped. The device tracked them for a moment. Then, a lone blue and violet burst made a crater of a row of hedges and their bodies. She continued in-step, by now the screams silent, but replaced helicopters that throttled up in fast thumps, made gusts of wind scream from the high roof of the enormous, villa-style home.

Her father had always liked his helicopters; they took him anywhere he wanted to go and their view made him feel as if the king he’d always attempted to become. They were as much a part of him as his arrogance or lack of mercy.

Evelyn turned on-heel, sighted one helicopter. A plasma burst sheered off its top half, part of the pilot gone with it. The husk burned in a tail-spin as the other began to lift off below it. They collided mid-air. An explosion shook the estate grounds as fire rained on the villa. The gnarled steel of the two choppers plummeted through the roof, ignited secondary explosions in the house and garage.

For a moment, the fire gleamed in Evelyn’s eyes as she watched– both from the house and her own fury. A moment later she swiveled forward again, continued her march. Security guards shouted, screamed orders back and forth, even fled for their lives. Their pay wasn’t worth dying for, not anymore anyhow, especially given her father’s incentive to die for him was nullified by his own death.

She marched, unimpeded, between columns of hedges on either side of her. The pristinely manicured grounds had been a status symbol more than anything. Even then, they were as much a part of her cage as the gate far ahead was. To the crunch of gravel from the path beneath her boots, Evelyn kept her rhythm firm, pointed for the grounds’ wrought-iron, rear-gates. Beyond waited her getaway vehicle and the promise of a new life. Nothing could have stopped her from reaching it even had it tried.

She was through the gates in less time than it felt, twenty-one years of misery almost over. She slid into the rear-seat of a vehicle, slipped the device off her hand. A man beside her presented a cupped palm for it. She dropped it in. He turned it over in his hands, examined it. Then, with a nod to the driver, the vehicle began to roll forward.

“Your father?” The old man asked. Evelyn glared. He gave a lone nod, eyes forward, “Fitting his greatest invention should be his last, and that it should be the death of him.”

“My father,” she said caustically. “Was a monster. Monsters deserve to die.”

The man’s face pinched inward pensively, “Indeed.” He swallowed hard in a dry throat, glanced over at her, “I can’t help but wonder, if perhaps killing a monster, makes one a monster too.”

She sneered, “Perhaps it makes one a saint.”

He gave a smirk, laughed quietly and nodded to himself as the car drove on through the night toward an uncertain future. Whether monster or saint, it didn’t matter to Evelyn; she was free, now able to be either or both if she so chose.

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 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.

The Collective: Part 5

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!