HARD (ACT 2)

CHAPTER 17

Reika reached into her trouser pocket and fumbled around loose change, screws, and string. She pulled out a sharp razor capped in worn out plastic. The blade still worked though. She reached for the lock ahead of her and started to fiddle with the razor, clicking and snapping until the mechanism came loose.

With one foot desperately holding on to a ledge and most of her body in a graceful poise, suspended mid-air, she quietly listened to the tiny vibrations inside the lock mechanism on the heavy door. The countless children beneath her stood and watched, hopeful that they would find an escape.

She had one of those quirks where her nostrils would flare open and her tongue would stick out the side when in deep focus. ‘Fuck yeah!’ The sound of a victorious final click and the lock was defeated

Despite a gust of strong wind billowing resisted from the outside, Reika busted the door wide open with a grunt and a heaving push. There was finally clean air rushing through the underground. The breeze, coarse and grainy finally overwhelmed the stench of rotting bodies they had to endure for the last day.

She walked out the hatch. The children climbed up, rushing out, slipping past her legs, welcoming their freedom. Only one stayed behind to thank her.

‘It’s alright “little monkey”, at least we’re out,’ she patted the little girl’s head, just shy a few centimetres from her own small, petite stature.

Reika lumbered along her tired legs until she reached the back of her trunk.

‘Finally,’ a woman slightly older than her in the front seat shouted. ‘Where in the fuck were you?’

‘Erm…stuck inside a hole for the last day or so! Where the fuck were you?’ Reika dropped her tired ass onto the hard cushion next to the driver seat.

‘Inside him!’ She pointed out far into the distance at one of the lumber mill workers. Reika peered ahead through the dancing waves of heat. She saw a tall shadow of a man, working hard with a shovel.

‘Don’t you mean he was inside you?’

‘Nope,’ she answered with a cheeky smile.

Reika rolled her eyes. ‘I got everything we need. Let’s get the hell outta here, Sis.’

‘Why the rush sweetheart? Let’s enjoy a couple more hours,’

‘Na’ah. Fuck you. I’ve had it with this place.’

Chris always felt she was the older, more responsible one, and usually got her way with things. Today though, she was feeling a little generous.

‘Well, at least you made some friends. You found anything?’

‘Nope, you can cross this place off the list,’

Somebody was outside pecking at their door.

The little girl from earlier stood quiet while swinging her arms gleefully left to right. In her frail little hands, she held a piece of metal larger than her grip. She moved to proffer it to the woman who saved her.

Reika reached her arms out the window and took it gratefully. The piece had an engraved symbol on it. ‘Intriguing. In all my years.’

‘Let me see that,’ Chris grabbed it from her sister. She opened her eyes wide and gave it a good inspection before throwing it right back on Reika’s lap. ‘Junk!’

‘Good. Coz I wanna keep it.’

**

The horizon, a bright yellow. In deep space, the Admiral-5 strayed close to the mining vicinity; a nameless dying star. Such stars were a perfect to rest ships. It was warm, provided great solar energy, and at the same time, were literal gold-mines. However, the electromagnetic radiation would now and then play unsolicited games with the internal circuits of the freighter; extra pay for the miners, bonuses for the engineers, and maximum profit for investors.

Katie had a very important meeting that night. It all sparked from a secret email chain that eventually led to an elaborate and tedious scavenger hunt.

She was cunning, careful, and courageous; all known traits of hers. Every path she took, she deliberately added stops, reversals and detours just to throw the trackers off. In the murky corners of the Northern Districts, she found herself in an old tailor’s workshop as part of the next lead.

She buried her face between the hovering collars of her trench coat. She let her hair down and kept her shades on, like in one of her favourite noir novels.

The place was brightly lit, sandwiched between a cheap hair salon and a discount store, there was nobody but an old woman at the cashier.

She handed the woman her slip.

The lights flickered. ‘An ominous sign,’ she thought. Katie was never really a hundred per cent sure about this. But what choice did she have? Her conspiracy theories were confirmed. Her mother was wronged, alive, alone, exiled in a distant planet waiting for her.

The old woman brought the slip under her lamp and studied it closely. It was a series of letters and numbers; some kind of code.

‘Hmph, let’s try,’ she said while she crawled to a door by the side painted to camouflage with the rest of the wall. There was a digital panel nailed it the brick, where she started to press invisible keys one by one.

A click.

The secret door unlatched, and it appeared to lead to an eerie stairwell.

‘There you go,’ she smiled and moved away doing her best to not appear conspicuous.

‘Thank you,’ Katie nodded at her strangeness and braved herself to proceed forward.

Down she went careful with her steps; her sneakers dead silent. For a moment all she could hear was her anxious burps and gulps. As soon as she was down, there was another door. She held tight to the doorknob.

It opened with a creaky twist.

Inside was a lot less claustrophobic. It had a tech-wizard wet dream vibe all over it. Graffiti over the walls, stacked up hard drives, and so many screens, tablets and computers along with a few skinny individuals in thematically dark clothing. The lights were dim and there were loose parts of plastic and machinery everywhere.

One of them came close to her, awkward and high. ‘So you’re the one,’ he smirked from the corner of his pierced lips.

‘Your Highness, she is here!’ He exclaimed as if preparing her arrival. ‘Please my lady,’ he attempted to bow almost about to trip, only didn’t.

In the centre of the garage, there was lonely hermit sitting hunched, eyes focused on the screen. Body limber, one restless leg, one hand holding a burning cigarette and another typing rapidly.

‘Come’ a husky baritone reverberated from those tiny lips.

Katie confidently approached. In her peripheral vision she saw more of these types by the corners, sitting, lying, hanging all with numerous digital devices in their hands.

‘Hi!’ Katie voiced out with a slight lilt. ‘You are MrFatBastard?’

‘Tis I.’ The person looked up with steely green eyes and but with a gentle wink to humanize it. Pushing off the desk, MrFatBastard rolled backwards and after getting a full view, Katie soon realised she was looking at the body of a woman, albeit an androgynous one.

‘Well let’s start talking then shall we?’

MrFatBastard rubbed their eyes. ‘Yup. Let’s. Transfer the credits over there. We have a machine,’

‘I’m no idiot,’

‘Neither am I, princess.’

**

Chris and Reika drove for hours in the scorching sands and cracking dirt. They stopped by several old city ruins and collapsed structures to make pyre and eat. The pissed on walls, shat in holes, and fingered themselves behind trees, howling and screeching with the dogs and wolves.

Every day they progressed a little further, and today, according to their map, they were finally at their destination.

‘I think that’s it,’ Reika claimed in excitement. ‘It’s the last one we still haven’t crossed out.’

‘No fucking way,’ Chris stood up to look above their grimy front window.

Reika accelerated, hoping some sand will enter her sister’s nose, and it did, and she was happy.

‘Hahahaha,’ she chuckled with a devilish sense of mischief.

The structure that was on the map revealed the place to be a gigantic monument, metal railings built to create giant spheres stacked on each other, towering till it punctured the sky. Numerous rail tracks converging at varying levels to create the illusion of broad metal wings. But this structure was nowhere as impressive; just a destroyed complex of rust and decay, a shadow of its former glory.

They geared up as per usual; flashlights, hang-gliders, knives, O2 masks and most importantly, guns. The site had a strange decomposing stench lurking about coming from underground through long cracks and crevices. ‘Not this again,’ Reika smirked.

They started their descent, slowly, testing their footing each step of the way before they found footing on steady ground.

‘I’d be careful,’ Reika shone her flashlight down deep. It went on forever. ‘I have a feeling we’re not alone,’

‘We aren’t,’ Chris pointed further ahead. She saw a backpack with some tools inside. A tiny handgun by the side of it, magazine empty.

‘Someone was here. Our target maybe,’ Chris noted shoeprints and started to track them west.

The stillness of the air gently shook. Reika’s hair rose.

‘Wait!’ she cried out. ‘It’s a trap!’

A barrage of gunfire came for them. Chris jumped and threw herself of Reika. They rolled to the side and found cover under some broken pillars.

‘You there, buddy?’ Chris bought time loading her rifle and cocked it. She turned her neck slightly past the edge, peering. She spotted him, hiding behind a wall with an SMG.

‘POW!POW!POW!POW!POW! He sprayed erratically at her.

‘You finished? Boy, your aim is bad. Remind me never to fuck you,’

‘Stop mocking him,’

‘Relax,’ Chris peered a second time and returned a volley. ‘Go!’

Reika jumped over and crawled on all fours like a feral little beast. Quickly she rushed until she was on his side of the wall.

Her agility was on point. He never saw her coming. Reika swiftly slid into assailant’s blind spot, used her knife to slit his shins and twirled gracefully as a dancer to stand over his back.

‘Drop it’ the sharp end of her blade slightly cut the skin underneath his Adam’s apple.

The man couldn’t dare swallow. He dropped the SMG and his arms we up.

Chris got up and walked toward them, her eye steady on the crosshair, watching for sudden movement.

‘Well then, Kade is it? Hmph. I was hoping for more.’

Reika squeezed tighter. ‘I might look small, but I dare you to try something,’

Chris lowered her rifle. ‘There’s a hefty price for you. Dead more than alive. You mind telling me why that it is?’

**

As soon as MrFatBastards received notification that the agreed sum was now in their account, they snapped their fingers and everyone else was alerted.

The entire crew had a noticeable albeit minuscule change in their attitudes. They had a new project. Katie was invited to sit and watch.

She grabbed the chair and made herself comfortable, while the tension was palpable and circulating around the room, there was no way she could just sit quietly without panting in anxiety. Her eyes were glued to MrFatBastard’s screen, now projecting various code. It all made sense to Katie only as far as her education took her, then it all became unintelligible. ‘It’s like the code had a code,’ she mumbled.

MrFatBastard fired a ping and waited. The screen showed a clickbait advertisement for hair loss being sent threw a spam mail.

‘Any minute now, a lonely pathetic night guard is going to click that ‘YES’ and we’re gonna be officially…’

‘PING!’ a flicker shone and just as predicted, they were in.

‘It’s not that easy as a rootkit right?’

‘Well, you’d be surprised. This is the government we’re talking about.’

There was a myriad of CCTV footage, live broadcasting different sections of Parliament after office hours, empty, motionless, and even more restricted. MrFatBastard raised their legs and scratched their ashy ankles. Katie sneaked a look on how hairless it was. ‘You done there?’ the hacker yelled at her screen.

Katie noticed that nobody was paying any attention. Every finger in that room was on a keyboard but hers, constantly tapping away on keys, writing code as if playing a video game.

‘They’re battling the defence software,’ she cleverly figured.

‘GOOD! You’re a smart one aren’t you princess,’ MrFatBastard sneered. ‘I’m here,’ a muffled voice replied from their laptop speaker.

‘Right, open your pad. You’ll have the feed over,’ they replied.

‘Which room again honey?’ MrFatBastard looked sternly at Katie, distracted and overwhelmed. The girl took a second to take in the question, then started rummaging the documents and files she had brought over.

‘Try Room C-34, East Wing, it’s the Minister of Regional Affair’s office. He might have some things on his computer.’

‘Alright,’ said the voice and immediately Katie saw in the camera feed, a man in black apparel, increased his pace in the direction she asked him to go.

‘Two in the hallway,’ MrFatBastard warned the man, now holding his back by the corner of the wall while two security guards came at his direction, oblivious to an oncoming attack,

‘NO!, You can’t,’ Katie shouted.

She saw the man pop out from the behind the corner and shoot straight into guard’s necks, immediately paralysing them before they had their chances to react.

Katie covered her lips appalled. ‘STOP!’ she yelled.

‘Take the next right. Find a spot to hide.’ MrFatBastard took their eyes off the screen and glared at their client. ‘If you don’t have the stomach for this then I suggest you don’t watch.’

‘Those guards might have had families. You just killed them,’

‘If you want the files. There isn’t another way.’

‘People would be looking for them,’

‘It’s not a gun, it’s a tranquillizer,’ said the voice from the laptop. MrFatBastard acted surprised.

‘You sure? They looked dead,’ Katie was not convinced.

‘You sure mate?’ MrFatBastard asked again for the sake of their client.

‘The lady is right, people would be looking for them. Why waste good bullets. Now can we proceed?’ the man was agitated.

‘Well, he’s asking isn’t he?’ MrFatBastard shouted impatiently. Katie nodded.

‘She said “yes”. Now. You’re in that room?’ MrFatBastard peered at closely at all the various camera feed.

‘Need a password,’

Katie was slightly relieved in the residue of her panic. She wiped her eyes and cleared her throat. ‘OK! Try this…’ she flipped her documents.

The man in the suit entered and headed straight for the computer. He logged in and soon enough a window popped up in MrFatBastard’s screen, mirroring that of the Minister of Regional Affair’s computer.

‘It’s everything?’ Katie watched.

‘Looks like,’ they chuckled. ‘More than what you asked for even,’

‘Just get the parts we want,’ she warned the hacker.

‘We don’t have time for that, we’re copying everything.’

Katie locked on a folder that read, ‘Okeke. ‘Open that,’ Katie pointed.

‘Who or what is “Okeke”?’ MrFatBastard queried.

‘Mom’

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