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!

The Collective: Part 2

2.

The Collective

Lex was clad in leather, swords at her back as the neon of billions of signs and lights threw a sickening array of colors at her. She’d already taken the liberty of dying her hair– jet black with streaks of silver. Her heavy, blue eye shadow was accented by black eye-liner, as much for fashion as concealment. When coupled with her ultra-pale skin, black leather duster, skin-tight clothing and calf-high boots, she appeared more like a terrifying wraith than a twenty-six year old woman.

The streets were mostly empty, a frightening prospect for any one that might have seen Tokyo in the past, before The Sleep– what Lex and the people like her called the shift that the world had taken. Before then, Tokyo was the most densely-populated city in the world. Over fifty-million people would daily flood the streets and sidewalks of the metropolis. Doctors, lawyers, fireman, police– any occupation or type of person thought to be named was found ten times over in the insanity that flowed along daily routes to the tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of businesses spread through the city’s sky-line. All this, to say nothing of the tourists and foreign business people that flocked to the city in untold numbers.

Now, it was a ghost town. At least, it looked that way. Lex’s boots crossed the vacant sheen of oil and water over the white-lined cross-walk. Even if anyone cared to look at her, the katanas at her back were hardly noticeable in the glare of color that assaulted the senses. She wasn’t worried in the least, instead determined. Her focused myopia was evident in the rigidity of her spine and the deliberate steps that propelled her into a narrow alley-way.

Lex slunk into darkness, blinded given what she’d come from. She nosed out a metal door in her shifting night-vision, banged a balled fist against it twice, then hesitated before a third knock. An face-height panel slid open to a lone pair of almond eyes. Harsh syllables from a native Japanese rolled into softer consonants to from a question.

Lex’s eyes were forward, body straight, “Tell Ryo the message has been delivered.”

The eyes moved with a nod. The panel grated metal, slid shut. Lex turned on-heel to follow the alleyway through, her destination slightly less clear her intent to reach it.

She’d lived in Tokyo twenty years, had grown up in its hustle and bustle, met more than her share of its underbelly, upper-belly, and expats like her parents. There wasn’t much about Tokyo she didn’t know or hadn’t seen, yet paradoxically, it was eternally changing, different with each breath: Maybe that was how the Collective had been able to do what they’d done. It was certainly plausible; Tokyo’s people were used to the fast-paced, respectful turns Japanese culture and society had taken, were trained from birth not to linger, think. Lingering was inefficient, unproductive, and thinking meant wasting time in place of getting things done– what a great irony that all the people did now was sleep.

The profundity wasn’t lost on Lex as she stepped across once-crowded streets. The only signs of civilization were a trio who’d managed to retain a modicum of self-reliance, left their figurative beds to retrieve food between bouts of sleep. Most things were drone delivered nowadays, daily food shipments too. Fresh-vegetables and full-meals were as much a given now as they had once been a luxury. Such was the way of the world that even these simple contrivances of life had been relegated to programs, code, and machines. The Collective had seen to that.

They’d also unwittingly signed their own death-warrants. Twelve men and women of various nations came together under a singular creed; pacify the world and take its money in the process. Politicians were lobbied and bribed until governments were largely useless, entirely in the pockets of the group. The insidious nature of the Sleep began with technology replacing the people, was a decade in the making. Eventually, no matter the outcry, it was obvious jobs were better handled by algorithms and unmanned vehicles or machines. Out went the laymen and blue-collar workers.

With them, municipalities became controlled by super-computers that watched and listened in on everything through massive surveillance networks. They were always collecting data, analyzing it, processing results faster and more responsive than humans. Fire-fighters turned into automated water-carrying drones and doubly powerful fire-suppression systems with countless redundancies and built to never fail. Police were down-sized into private armies, their orders given by A-I’s that adhered to the Collective’s programmed tenants as if the words of God. They killed or imprisoned without mercy, the former more likely now that fewer people toed the lines each day from fear of one or the other.

Even Lex was cautious of the drones; katanas were useful against flesh, but even the sharpest blade couldn’t sunder the thick, military-grade armor-plating of the flying menaces. She and the others like her relied on their wits, abilities to vanish, or evade their presence altogether. It was for that reason Lex crossed the empty street again, cut-through another alley way to emerge on the far side of an intersection, begin a zig-zag through various alleys toward her destination.

The drones didn’t sweep the alleys anymore; nothing that took place in them would ever last long enough to be caught. The worst of atrocities had largely been weeded out when the Sleep hit in full force– there was hardly an opportunity for pick-pockets to pilfer when no-one left their homes. The same went for killers, would-be kidnappers, or even rapists. In those ways, the incalculably infinite V-R worlds were a good thing. They kept the freaks at bay and their victims safe– but the problem of their existence wasn’t solved. They’d merely been hidden, their crimes relegated to sick, virtual fantasies. The people would just as soon be out in the real world living those fantasies out if there were enough people to enact them on.

The veil had to fall. The true face of the world had to be revealed to the people. They needed to know of their own, willing enslavement. With the Collective’s death, the VR Sleep would die too. Lex swore her life to it, tasted the death on her tongue and felt the Collective’s blood wash over her. The twelve that comprised the Collective would soon share those feelings. One-by-one, she would coat her blades with their blood until their empire weakened, fell atop their lifeless corpses.

Lex lingered in the shadows of the last alley on her route, watched the street ahead beneath a massive, LED television that flashed product ads in vain at the empty road. The distant sound of tires on the road was only just audible as the rain returned, gathered strength. The lights’ auras were muffled by the sheets of water that quickly descended over the city.

A tire splashed a puddle as it rounded a corner at Lex’s left with a silent, electric engine. The stretch limo eased into place beneath the television with a squeak of ceramic brakes. Its black, glossy finish was freshly waxed. Water beaded along the slick surfaces, formed miniature streams along the reflected, neon city-scape. An automated door opened for a man in a suit to step out, pull open an umbrella. Lex’s eyes homed in on the couple behind him; an aging, Chinese man, well past his expiration date, and a woman half his age with equally as much power.

Lex knew both him and the woman by reputation and the general ire of others like her. She’d long ago sniffed their details out: The man was Qiang Li, head of the Global Agricultural department, and now responsible for roughly ninety-five percent of the world’s food supply. China’s immense agricultural land had been divided between a few agencies and corporations as the Sleep deepened. In a short time, the world’s roughly twelve billion people were eating from a singular source– one that Li controlled. Even asleep, the people were hungry.

Her eyes narrowed on Li as he mocked chivalry with an extended hand that met the nimble fingers of the soft-skinned American woman and helped her from the car. She wore the high-powered dress of the wealthy elite, her posture more rigid and predatory than even Lex’s. She was Michelle Kay, recently appointed head of Global Weapons Research and Distribution, and sole remaining arms dealer. She supplied weapons for the former US army, now operating under the name of Global Security Solutions and leadership of Collective member James Hobbs. The few aspects of the military not phased-out into autonomous hands were special-ops groups– Green-berets, Navy Seals, SAS and the like. Those ultra-disciplined men and women were the only human element that remained to keep the world secure. Every country had some contingent of Hobbs’ men, all experts of lethality, and armed by Kay.

One side of Lex’s mouth snarled in disgust as she started across the street, made it to the front of the limo. She began to round its edge when the trio finally caught her approach. The umbrella-carrier began to speak. Lex’s blades scraped metal against fabric, slid from their sheaths to their downward point. They remained still as she stepped within reach of the trio.

She struck; screams shattered the rainstorm’s white noise. Her leg went up, struck the carrier’s chest. He flew back winded. Lex’s weight rounded mid-air, blades parallel with a wide slice. They cut deep along Li’s torso. His intestines spilled out with a gallon of blood as he fell to his knees with a rasping scream. Before he landed, the blades were already buried in Kay’s chest. Her eyes bulged. Adrenaline fried her nerves. Blood leaked down her lip, dripped along her blouse. Lex gave a twist that crunched bone, forced the blades lateral. They met, edge-to-edge, withdrew in a flick. Kay crumpled to the ground.

Lex’s left hand angled a swipe across Li’s throat as she turned for the winded man on the ground. He skittered back, clutched his throat and choked for air. Lex loomed over him as her blades left opaque droplets on the sidewalk. He rasped sharp attempts to breath, fought tried to drag himself backward.

Lex slammed a booted foot into his sternum, stuck the tip of a blade up against his throat to hold him in place. She met his eyes, unaffected by the carnage, “You will take over Michelle Kay’s place, and ensure you have a say in Li’s replacement, then await further instructions. Is that clear?”

He nodded, struggled to breathe as he replied, “Wh-what if I can’t… a-a-arrange it?”

Lex’s face remained blank, tilted to one side as her blade’s tip stretched his skin, “That is unacceptable.” He acknowledged with a nod. “This conversation never happened.”

His eyes said he was more certain it hadn’t than anything in his life. She gave a satisfied sneer, lifted her boot from his sternum, then slammed the opposite one against his temple. He was unconscious when she turned away, blades whirling to fling away water and blood before they slipped back into their sheathes.

“Two down,” she muttered. “Ten to go.”

Missed part 1? Read it here!

The Collective: Part 1

1.

Declaration of War

Her crème white skin gleamed in the dimmed light of overhead LEDs, tinted with a plethora of colors from the 3-D holo-vid in the room’s center. Her body mirrored that of the projected woman before her; legs and back straight, eyes forward, and arms at her sides. In her hands, two, razor sharp Katanas gleamed with hints of light and caricatured reflections. She began to move with the projection; her feet parted, braced her exposed torso as her arms drew the blades up to rest on her shoulders. The cold steel triggered waves that coursed through her body, tickled thin, light hairs along her arms and neck, and refined the shape of her nipples.

With a fluid motion, the blades lifted. A foot kept her balance in a pivot while the other leg swept sideways to come about. The blades’ hilts touched, began to whirl as one entity with graceful movements. She urged them apart and into a vertical tumble. Balanced extensions of arms and legs moved her lower, forward. The blades made long, controlled swipes as she pirouetted to bring their blunt edges in toward one another, form make-shift bars of death before her face. Her dark eyes closed in a meditative trance, and the movements flowed into one another again, faster this time.

The nudity wasn’t required for her practice, but she couldn’t escape the freedom it brought. To be one with the sword required she be willing to dance as naked as it was. The two were beautiful beasts, as graceful and ready to love, embrace passion as to murder, spill bloods.

The movements became faster with small leaps. The room’s layout was clear in her mind as her muscles worked. Despite the darkness, she saw the room with light– an unnecessary luxury given her routine. She was as much dead to the world now as anyone who might cross her blades would become. At that, it wouldn’t be long before the polished steel ran crimson.

They were already watching from the cameras embedded in the apartment. She knew who they were, had seen them before. In that odd way that memories sometimes manifest from the aether, they appeared in portents of violence. The visions were stills of things yet to happen, as though made of old, analog film left on the cutting room floor of time. For her part, she would see the film joined by blood.

Her style of practice was something of Tai-Chi mixed with Ballet, both forms of bodily training lost to the world in the rise of self-medicating technology. Before the Sleep, it had surrounded people, become so much a part of their lives most hadn’t noticed it any longer. Now, it was their lives; virtual worlds had become as real as the Earth itself– moreso even, given the untold possibilities V-R allowed for. Everyone was now a buff-stud or supermodel in a world of their choosing, lived out through the use of special chairs, visors, and neural adapters. Nowadays peoples’ avatars were more them than their chair-bound vessels ever could be.

The world had gorged itself on greed and gluttony when all but a few jobs became automated, relegated to synthetic workers, robots, or intelligent software. The World Economy had begun to collapse then. Ninety-eight percent of the world’s work force was laid off. Before it could decimate the planet entirely, steps were taken, precautions put in place. The populous was given living stipends, needs and luxuries made available at fractions of the cost to ensure complacency.

Most of the world saw the change as a positive, but not Lex. She saw if for what it was, and in some instances, what it would become. There were no more wars, sure, but there was also no more freedom, no property but what was allotted. There were no avenues to pursue hopes or dreams, and given time, there would be no hopes or dreams anyhow. The world’s peoples had become victims of their own hubris, compromised fertility for longer life, vitality for luxury, and mental health for quick fix pleasures that would only lead to stagnation. All the while the rich got richer off it, did whatever they wanted. The global population had compromised fertility for longer life, vitality for luxury, and mental well-being for the quick-fix of pleasures that would only lead to stagnation.

Lex knew that, and so eschewed all but the most necessary luxuries, stipends, or pacifying technology that would allow her to achieve her goals. Those things couldn’t stop her from pursuing the future she sought, nor eliminating anyone in her way of it. Her only dream or hope was to change things– by force or reason, whichever was fastest, easiest.

That was how they had found her; through a few, overlooked surveillance devices embedded in common goods. Then, once surveillance had begun, they’d come in when she’d been away and planted more equipment to build their case. All she’d needed was the sense to investigate at the scents of foreign sweat, leather. When she did, she realized her mistake. Regardless, it only served to hasten her plans.

The world was the oyster of a very select few whom had carved it out for themselves over the course of decades. They had private armies– whole governments even– on their side, had otherwise pacified any other resistance against them. They’d drugged, imprisoned, or neutralized anyone that might stand against them, refused to sleep. They would kill anyone, no matter their station, to ensure the status-quo.

And now they were here.

The door to her apartment burst open. A flash-bang went exploded. Lex remained poised, blades touching before her face. Her ears rang, but she felt the vibrations of a half dozen feet charge inside. It was one of the few squads of police left in Tokyo– the whole world at that. The bulk of their numbers had long been reduced to drone patrols with high-powered tazers or small chain-guns mounted to their bellies, but these were foot soldiers.

They filed in. The latest, high-tech battle-rifles in their hands rose on her. Shouts of Japanese and English commanded the American-born woman to drop her weapons. They flowed in, fanned out in a half-circle around her. The commands never ceased.

Her arms lowered deliberately, swords in a downward-point toward the floor, her readied poise. The squad flinched. Shouts grew louder, repetitive. Rifle’s shook from adrenaline and fear. A few sparks of arousal in men and women left them half-dazed at Lex’s beauty and nudity.

In a blink, she leapt forward. A foot landed on the ball. Her hands flashed. The blades sliced up, in, down, flourished with a backward flip. Lex landed back in place as if she’d never moved at all. The only evidence was the slow river that flow form the blades’ tips, dripped crimson onto the metal floor. The squad blinked in disbelief as the lead man disassembled, arms severed from his torso and head from neck. His corpse fell to a heap.

Someone fidgeted, fingered a trigger. Lex leapt, spun. Blades sliced air, marred flesh, sundered bone and spinal nerves. Two of the left-most squad were decapitated in a flick of wrists. The others reacted, moved to take aim. Rifles were kicked from hands, bodies winded and propelled back with tremendous force. The dual blades mutilated wrists, incised throats. Screams turned to gurgles and bubbled whispers.

The room went silent again from the dead and wounded.

Two soldiers remained. One reached for her side arm, the other on her back on the floor, dazed. She gasped for air. Lex landed beside her, jabbed the left blade down into her chest, pierced her glossy body armor. The blade wrenched with cracking kevlar and bone. Blood spurted from an opened heart. Lex’s movement became a raised-leg spin that struck the side-arm. It flew across the room as the blades went for the woman’s throat, poised on either side to cut. She backed her up to the wall, forced her to her knees.

Lex stared down, blood spattered along her silken body, “You speak English.” The woman nodded. It wasn’t a question. “Tell your bosses I’m coming.” The woman nodded again. She raised her back up to her feet. “Tell them what you’ve seen here today, and that you know I could have done the same to you.”

“Wh-why?” The armored woman asked.

Lex chose her words carefully, “Mercy is a gift not often given. The world is about to change. You may choose to change with it, or die by my sword.” She locked eyes with the woman, “The choice is yours.” The woman sensed her conviction, swallowed hard. Lex sneered, “Leave. Do not return.”

The blades fell back to Lex’s sides in their readied poise. The woman bolted, stumbled over bodies for the door, fell through it only to scramble up and flee.

No matter what happened now, the Collective would know she was coming. They’d forced her hand, but she could use it, show them the stakes so they might watch, see the carnage about to befall them. Only then could they begin to feel fear– fear that would force them to make rash decisions, position their empire to be crumbled as they were taken out, one-by-one.

One way or another, an end would soon come.

The Collective: A Preview

Do you like sci-fi? How about action? With a side of bloody vendetta, cyberpunk, and swordplay?

If you’ve answered yes, and are suddenly wondering why I’ve begun sounding like a television announcer, then keep your eyes out for The Collective, starting next Friday, — and stop questioning my methods, I can be a television announcer if I want.

Excerpt From The Collective;

Someone fidgeted, finger on the trigger. Lex leapt, spun, blades sliced air, marred flesh, sundered bone and spinal nerves. Two of the leftmost squad were decapitated in a flick of wrists. The others reacted, moved to take aim. Rifles were kicked from hands, bodies winded and propelled back with tremendous force. The dual blades mutilated wrists, incised throats. Screams turned to gurgles and bubbling whispers.

The room went silent again from the dead and wounded.

A short summary: The Collective is ten chapters of one woman’s masterfully executed plan of sabotage and vengeance against a small group seeking to rule the world. Set against the backdrop of a nearly-abandoned Tokyo, the cyberpunk-esque setting follows Lex and her blood-thirsty swords as they aim to awaken a global population from The Sleep– a technological take-over that has left the world largely abandoned.

But how can one woman hope to change the world? Find out starting March 18th, 2016.

(P.S. I promise I’ll only do the announcer thing when it’s necessary…)