The last time the sky was blue was well before I was born. Azure skies can only be seen now through archived images on the Link but somehow you never seem to worry about things you never knew. Now all we're greeted to is a sea of ashen grey that fills the horizon.
Our expensive transport skimmed through the maudlin sky effortlessly as I stared out the back seat window at the brilliant lights and holographic billboards that drifted between the skyscrapers. These gaudy splashes of color were some sad attempt to keep the cities from looking desolate no matter how far they stretched into the clouds. My eyes scanned around the city taking in its wonders, but the strobing lights couldn't hold my attention.
“Poll, are you listening to me?”
I looked back over my shoulder. “Of course I am, Anthony. Why do you ask?”
“I'm dictating a letter. You look like you haven't heard a word I'm saying.”
“I hear everything you say.” Raising my hand, my slim tech pad was nestled in my palm. On its satin touchscreen, Anthony's entire letter was spelled out word for word in cyber green.
“I hate when you do that without looking or touching anything.”
“You didn't make me your attaché because of my looks.”
Anthony's warm smile was suddenly unprofessional in his fine dark navy suit. Refusing a tie, he wore the expensive garment casually even in the most important business meetings. He reached out and ran his hand over the back of my head, his fingers grazing the thicker blond hair at the top. I preferred my hair its natural dark brown, but Anthony had a fetish for blond British schoolboys.
His eyes scanned over my perpetually youthful features and smaller body before he placed his professional facade back in position and resumed his dictation. And as before, I reached out with my thoughts and fed his words directly into the tech in my hand, writing and editing without lifting a finger.
In bright red text on my personal data file I was classified as para-human: a subspecies of the human race with extra-normal abilities that emerged after centuries of environmental abuses and genetic engineering to combat it. Most specifically, I am referred to as a tech empath.
When I look out the window it's not the garish display of marketing excess that draws my fascination. When I reach out with my thoughts, I can see the strands of code being transmitted through the air unfettered, a multi-layered spider's web of ones and zeros that connects all the technology of the world at once. I can ride that link with my consciousness and communicate with and command any device with an electronic brain – which pretty much means anything short of a shovel.
My classification makes me highly prized; there are very few tech empaths to my knowledge. According to global census logs, my brother, Costa, and I are two of five currently living on Earth. Anthony acquired me fifteen years ago from the United Kingdom Collective where I was housed. Due to security reasons, para-humans with my skills are sequestered without appropriate governmental clearance. With Anthony's position as Lead Global Security Engineer there wasn't much contest.
I read the code of the driver's conversation for security clearance even before the transport began to drop in altitude for the upcoming landing. A large hangar door opened in the side of the building we were focused on, its location secure for our arrival. The vehicle barely gave off a shiver as it came to rest, with a small entourage of three well-dressed men walking forward to greet us. I mentally signed Anthony's letter with his DNA ID code and sent the file to its destination.
I straightened my suit, knowing Anthony liked me looking smart in public. With as well as I was treated, I had no reason to defy him. Even as a second-class citizen I was very fortunate to be in the position that I was. Others were not nearly so lucky.
“Greetings, Mr. Swaden,” the lead man said. He introduced himself as Mr. Havisall and his younger assistants as Markus and Lafferty. Havisall was dignified and polite, as if money was something that was given and not earned to him, which was a strong contrast to Anthony who made his position and wealth through his own hard work and perseverance.
I walked at Anthony's side, as he preferred, as we were led deeper into the building. Havisall spoke quickly talking about preliminary details of their upcoming meeting with finance ministers from other continents. Anthony Swaden had designed the para-human facilities that housed the various members of my sub-class that couldn't function in society. His technology had been so successful that others wanted similar solutions to their own problems and were looking to him to expand globally.
Havisall was still speaking even as the lift doors opened into the hallway. “The meeting will be within the hour. I can have a meal brought up for you and your pariah attaché if you'd like.”
Anthony stopped walking, bringing the entire group to a standstill. “My attaché’s name is Poll.” Anthony was polite but clearly unhappy as he enunciated each word. “I would prefer you address him as such.”
“Of course, Mr. Swaden. Poll and yourself are always welcome.” The skin of Havisall's face was beginning to shift slightly crimson as he nodded respectfully. Clearly he was not accustomed to being scolded publicly. Even as we began to move again, Havisall never bothered to make any form of apology in my direction.
The term “pariah” had been coined as a shortened version of “para-human,” with the emphasis on the definition meaning outcast. It is not meant as a term of endearment. Some think I should be offended by the slur, but I'm not really in a position to say anything. My rights are limited and I would be happier living with Anthony than being forced back to an internment center.
We continued through a large lobby where a para-human janitor was cleaning the floors. I recognized him immediately by the large mandatory identification numbers we all share across our right cheek. The iridescent government-sanctioned tattoos are bound to our DNA and go down to the bone, preventing any form of cosmetic surgery or engineering to remove them. The janitor was tall and gaunt with a shaved head and the standard-issue grey jumpsuit most para-humans are marked with. I admit I am a bit of an anomaly due to Anthony's special treatment of me.
When the janitor caught sight of me, a sneer curled his expression and he stopped cleaning. As we passed I tried to not look directly at him, but the sneer took on an all too familiar rage directed completely at me.
“I can't believe I have to scrub the toilets of the likes of you,” he snarled as the room became warmer and his eyes became akin to glowing embers.
“Get back to work at once!” Havisall commanded. The janitor ignored him completely as he began stalking forward at me, the heat radiating off him breaking me into a sweat instantly. My mind raced into the building's personnel files. The janitor, number 100786, was a pyrokinetic with a juvenile record. He's potentially dangerous. Why is he working here?
Fear paralyzed me as the janitor's burning eyes settled on me; waves of heated air began to scald my skin.
“FUCKING RACE TRAITOR!”
Everything slowed down as Anthony stepped between us and spun me behind him. I read the invisible cone of ones and zeros that transmitted out in front of him from the small device he pulled from his jacket pocket. The janitor jerked and spasmed in a constant rhythm for several seconds before falling forward on his face. He continued to seize violently in concert to the small indicator lights that flashed on the small silver disk embedded at the base of his skull. Security guards came out from every corner to finish subduing the janitor.
I couldn't stop my hand from reaching to the pacifier along the bottom of my closely trimmed hairline. The tech was identical to the janitor's; it was a requirement for all para-humans. I scanned it carefully, making sure it wouldn't go off. I never wanted to experience its ability to bring the most powerful to the state of a gibbering idiot.
“Are you all right, Poll?” Anthony's arms surrounded me as he tried to calm the tremor that threatened to undo me. I had always been small and somewhat fragile. I believe it was a byproduct of my talents. Never challenged, my resolve was feeble and I needed protection. This was not the first time another para-human had focused their anger at me, but this was the first time one had actually tried to kill me.
I wish I could be more like my brother Costa. We're identical in appearance and skills but he's fearless and I'm a coward. Costa was always the one who kept us together after we were identified and processed as children. As tech empaths, I understood our value to be based on how well we performed, Costa simply understood our value. His quick thinking is how both of us ended up with affluent sponsors after he sent communiqués to all the CEOs he could find across the Link. The bidding was intense and he loved every minute of it; I was terrified. We weren't able to stay together after that, but our lives had the opportunity to not be simple slave labor compared to so many others.
I missed him so much. Costa and I hadn't set eyes on each other since Anthony acquired me almost ten years ago. If it wasn't for our personal bond, our separation would have been unbearable.
Trying to muster a semblance of sanity, I pressed my forehead against Anthony's firm chest even as he stroked my cheek. I was ashamed that I couldn't be as resilient as him or my twin. Anthony had risked his life to save me; there was no telling if the janitor wouldn't have torched him alive for standing in front of me.
“Can you make it through the meeting? I'll cancel it if you're too shaken.” His rumbling voice asked for something I couldn't allow. Too much planning had gone into this meeting.
I couldn't fail him now. I raised my head and nodded, showing a strength I didn't really feel. Once again I could be what Anthony needed me to be.
* * * *
I hated how weak I was sometimes. If I couldn't calm the quake in my hands left over from yesterday's attack on me, I’d be liable to injure myself while making dinner. Costa often jokes at me that if I wasn't so pretty, I'd get eaten alive in this world. I wish he wouldn't say things like that to me or that they weren't so true.
Anthony was in his private office that we referred to as “The Hub.” That was where his most sensitive work was performed, residing in the penthouse suite of the Swaden Securities office building we lived in. It was the only room I'd never been in due to the security protocols required to enter. The room's tech required his DNA and his personal password to activate any of the equipment inside or the elevator to gain entrance. The Link firewalls and encryption barriers are enough to keep me out but I've never had the need to break my way into his restricted files.
Once I placed the roaster into the oven and set the timer, my eyes drifted over to the monitor mounted along the wall. My thoughts reached out to the inactive screen, bringing it to life and pulling open the personnel files of the Havisall office.
There was the janitor, his impassive image frozen with the number 100786 as his only identification. No other name required. Apparently he was on a probationary period for showing anti-social behavior at a previous workplace. With the current climate, “anti-social” could mean anything. Unfortunately, his employment would be at an end. Unsanctioned use of para-human abilities is a Class A felony. He would be sent to Quarantine for re-education. I remember the whispers and rumors in the internment facility about Quarantine. It was the stuff of nightmares and completely unsubstantiated. No one knew anyone who had ever been inside and came back out.
How did it come to all of this? My mind accessed the Link's newsfeed, searching under the criteria of para-human history and numerous vid clips and articles appeared to choose from. I started at the political end of the spectrum.
After the Great Migration, where a large portion of the over-populated planet left Earth to resettle on the new colonies on Alpha Centauri, para-humans began to appear with increasing rates judging by the number of newsfeeds devoted to the phenomena. Human Fundamentalists appeared on one side to argue the protection of the human race while Evolutionists argued that para-humans were the next step in mankind's voyage through the ages. The arguments persisted for generations, with the rights and laws of para-humans in a constant fluid state.
I fed the lines of ones and zeros into the monitor pulling a search on a para-human named Haphic Delmedge. The number of relevant information sites tripled.
Delmedge was a pedophile and child murderer who could walk through walls. Twenty-three children were raped and killed before the authorities were finally able to apprehend him. Crime scene photos were leaked to the news authorities and it gave the Human Fundamentalists the edge they needed to force a police state on the para-human population to protect the citizens and children. The images were so graphic, even the Evolutionists had been silenced in outrage. I've seen the stills myself; it makes me wish my abilities didn't include a photographic memory. It took weeks to shake the horrors from my mind.
Another shift of my thoughts produced a new series of choices gracing the screen. The portraits of five hopeful engineers sat before me, the men who proposed a solution to quell the riots and chaos that raced through the para-human community when the Para-human Control Act went into effect. Anthony Swaden was one of the five men and women. His blueprint was the most humane compared to the ghastly ideas invoked by the rest. Thankfully, his concepts and designs were chosen and the whole world calmed down into the civilized form of apartheid it had become.
An electronic chirp broke me out of the data stream. At times, I worried about losing myself in the Link, spreading my consciousness so wide and thin that it faded into obscurity. The thought frightened my overactive mind and titillated it at the same time. For now I would be content with turning the monitor's history to a sea of zeros, wiping it clean of any information.
The sound was the oven timer indicating a perfect meal that was ready to eat. I signaled Anthony on his comm pad that dinner was ready. At least we're at the top of the food chain.
* * * *
“Poll. You've barely eaten.”
I shook my head gently. “I'm not particularly hungry today.”
“You're looking very nervous. Are you still upset over the attack at Havisall's?”
Anthony had just finished, dropping his cloth napkin in the middle of the empty plate. The hard lines of concern in his face were somehow balanced by the faint wisps of grey in his dark hair and goatee. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone and his sleeves were rolled up, his exposed forearms giving him the father in repose image I needed.
“Yes, Anthony.” I rubbed the small center of my brow as I did when I was stressed. “I haven't been able to shut down my mind since it happened.” Another side effect of my talents – sometimes I couldn't stop over-analyzing and processing data, the information creating an endless echo that reverberated in my thoughts. High stress was a common trigger for the effect and I was definitely mired in that right now.
The sound of his chair shifting backwards dug a knife through my skull – I had become so sensitive. I couldn't hide the reaction that brought him around the table to my side. Feather-light touches held my face in place, the heavy fingers giving a delicate contact as he peered into my weary eyes. The pressure had only become worse since dinner began. So focused in my research, I neglected the signs of the information overload.
“This is a bad one isn't it?” Anthony whispered. I nodded even as waves of overlapping data crashed about and muddied my thinking. “Come on, let's get you some Calm.”
In spite of the fact that I was much older than I looked, I followed Anthony through the penthouse like a lost child. I held on to a fistful of his sleeve as we walked with my eyes closed. The ones and zeros were connecting me with every system in the house simultaneously and I couldn't turn it off.
I didn't even dare to open my eyes until we were deep in the master bedroom. The stylish room was enormous. The little hovel of an apartment Costa and I lived in growing up before we were re-categorized as para-human wasn't half the size of this space. The lights were low and I sat on the edge of the bed as Anthony opened the bedside drawer. He extracted the small cylindrical device and stood before me.
“Just one dose?” he asked.
A rush of information rolled my stomach. “Two please, Anthony.”
Anthony nodded and held the dispenser before me and I obediently opened my mouth. With a press of the button a single precision drop hit my tongue followed immediately by a second. I lay back on the bed and waited for the Calm to take effect as he returned it to the drawer.
Calm was a drug approved for the control of para-humans. It was a variant of sodium pentathol, suppressing the higher brain functions to make a subject compliant and manageable and in a para-human's case, blocking access to most power sets. It was considered a humane option to provide regulated protection from pariah revolution. Calm was a controlled substance available for licensed sponsors and government organizations.
For me, it shut down my powers and gave me peace when the data stream overwhelmed me. The batches that Anthony was getting were black market chemistry of the original version of Calm. It provided a side-effect that had proved most effective in curbing para-human behavior, but the moral majority in the government refused to sanction it.
That very side effect was coming on full force as the data connections faded and the uncontrolled arousal sliced through me. Anthony preferred the original version of the drug for obvious reasons as he watched me start to flush in heat.
“Are we feeling better now, Poll?” Anthony's grin was somehow more attractive than I normally found on him. It was warm and caring with an underlying sense of desire that mirrored my own.
“Very much so.” I barely held back the giggle that tried to bubble out of me.
Anthony stood up tall and straight, his expression sobering as he walked over to the sitting area in the corner, his head held high, eyes peering down along his nose at me in disapproval.
“I have grown very weary of this behavior, Poll.” Anthony's face was stern. “Delinquency is not tolerated at Swaden's School for Boys.”
I tried not to smile outwardly as I fell into my role in this favorite scenario of his. “Yes, Headmaster.”
With my head lowered respectfully, I slowly trod over to Anthony's position, properly chagrined. Chest out and rigidly upright, his large frame looked even more imposing with the staunch air of command he portrayed. I took my spot directly before him with my head held down, remembering my part and not looking him in the eye.
“I am growing very tired of seeing you here in detention, Poll.”
“Yes, Headmaster.” I placed my hands behind my back and shifted my foot like an anxious child.
“You seem to be losing sight of why you're here.”
“Perhaps a more severe method of punishment is in order to make our rules more clear in your mind.”
The thought of what was coming grew a heat that sent little feathers tickling my entire body. “Yes, Headmaster.”
Even the sound of the chair being pulled away from the wall drew a sensation out of me. Anthony sat in the chair, never once breaking character.
“Assume the position, Poll.”
I nodded sheepishly as I slowly unbuckled my trousers, pushing them down my thighs. With my hands submissively behind my back, I laid across his lap leaving my vulnerable backside presented before him. A shuddering breath escaped me in anticipation. I felt his large hand across one buttock, subtly gauging its resistance as fingertips dipped into the crevasse.
“This will hurt me, Poll, more than it does you.”
I gasped as the sharp sting of the first slap reddened my ass. He paused before the second landed, no doubt trying to confuse my tendency to predict the next. The third and the fourth were quick and hard, my Calm-induced arousal finding only ecstasy and aching for the fifth. Anthony was no better. His hardening member attempted to burrow into my hip, ever deeper with each staggered strike. By the eleventh and twelfth, I was in a miasma of craving.
My breathing was already labored, the Calm transmitting every bit of pain into rushes that made me ache for more. Anthony paused momentarily to kindly stroke the sweet burn that enflamed my skin.
“I never want to find you sleeping in class again, Poll.”
I replied in haggard gasps. “I don't sleep, Anthony.”
The Calm was affecting me strongly this evening. As a variant of sodium pentathol, the suppressing of higher functions made the subject more tractable, reducing inhibitions that surrounded the act of lying. And I'd had a double dose.
“It's an effect of my tech empathy. My mind never completely shuts off. I don't actually sleep at night.” It all came out in some kind of dreamy giggle as I uttered words that had never crossed my lips before.
“Then you just lay next to me at night wide awake?”
“No,” I snickered. “I talk to Costa.”
Anthony's hand went still. “What do you mean? How can you talk to your brother from the bedroom?”
“We're linked. We can transmit and receive each other whenever we like.”
“You're telling me that when we lie in bed together you're just chatting with Costa?” Had Anthony's voice just flattened? The Calm made it difficult to tell.
“More or less.”
“What do you talk about?”
I shrugged my shoulders even as I held my hands behind me. “Everything.” The answer to me seemed obvious.
“That skill's not in your file.”
“We never told anyone.”
“It's our secret. It's special for us and us alone. No one can own it and no one can take it away from us.”
The Calm still had me floating along as I waited patiently for Anthony to return to the roleplay. The pause was endless. With my power blunted by the drug, I couldn't read the time-stamp on anything. I even wiggled my rear slightly to bring him back; my ardor had not diminished. When he finally recovered from the break of character, I wasn't ready.
The next few strikes were harder than before, more brutal. The pace increased as did the force of each blow. Anthony began to huff angrily and growl with each new slap as his other hand pressed into my lower back, holding me firmly in place. We had gone from a playful spanking into an outright beating. And through it all, the Calm rolled the violence into pleasure, twisting me in the conflicting sensations.
And if that wasn't punishment enough, the sodomy was even worse.
For the very first time in the last ten years since Anthony had sponsored me, I was left alone in the vast bed. He went to shower after he finished, refusing to even look in my direction. When he came out he muttered about there being work to be done and went directly to the Hub. The harrowing throb inside and out of my backside continued to drive rushes of lust into me and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The Calm was still active; the way it dulled my senses actually made me drift away into a troubled sleep. Perhaps that was for the best.
* * * *
A week had passed since the night with the Calm. Anthony was reserved for three days after, not even staying in the penthouse and only began sleeping back in bed with me two nights ago. I'm not even sure where he had been those three days but I felt it was wrong to ask. With Anthony's silence, I admit I don't completely understand what had happened. I've never felt so insecure near him, with our work, in the apartment, anything.
I wish I had Costa's skill at dealing with emotional subtleties. Code and tech sing their secrets to me but human interactions often muddle my understandings. I can't tell if Anthony is angry, ashamed or some complex mix of both. I only seem capable of fully grasping the extremes: fear and pleasure, rage and calm, ones and zeros.
To make matters worse, I hadn't heard from Costa since that night either. In the dark I reached out with my thoughts and found no trace of him while during the day the ones and zeros of every device around me taunted me with their effortless connections. Threads of digital information sped through my vision and mind and none of them were his.
My brother and I had never gone more than two nights without contacting each other. During the day was always difficult, there were too many prying eyes that could ask too many questions. We had made a pact to hide our link so it wouldn't be exploited. I couldn't stop rubbing that point between my brows over what I'd done. Costa would be furious if he found out.
Ten years and I'd never spoken a word of it. Even after all the times Anthony had given me the Calm, I'd never broken our covenant. I suppose he'd simply never asked the right question.
Anthony had sequestered himself in the Hub designing modifications requested by the new governmental clients that he'd acquired at the Havisall meeting. In all likelihood, he would be occupied for hours and not even come down for dinner. That was normal when he worked, but it never made the quiet of the house less eerie; I'd never been truly comfortable in my own company. Costa's disappearance only made the effect more profound.
I had done some preliminary scans and found nothing. No incident reports or bulletins were available that might give me an inkling to why he refused my contact. Was it that he refused, or was he unable to respond? There was nothing suspicious in the information I'd gleaned so far, but the reporting of foul play amongst the para-human population was weak at best.
My chest pinched tight at the thought. I needed Costa. His sense of humor and strength supported me through the first few months in this new home. Costa was the only person I knew how to love or would ever love.
I was desperate to know more. The authorities were a waste of time. No law enforcement division would waste time listening to the request or investigating a pariah missing persons report. I needed to see data that was restricted to the general population. Anthony had that level of clearance, it was necessary for him to have that access to the security grids to do his work. But I knew better than to even ask about such a thing now.
The monitor in the kitchen stared back at me lifelessly. Anthony would be completely engrossed in his work and not paying attention to anything else. My pulse raced at the thought. Anthony would be incensed but he'd never help me the way I needed now.
I took a deep breath, stopped myself twice and reached my thoughts into the monitor.
After checking to see that Anthony wasn't watching the activity on the premises, I pulled up the para-human registry using his DNA ID. I'd been using it for his correspondence for years. My number was 006251 and Costa was number 006252. His file flashed up on the screen. Our matching hazel eyes looked back at me and I wondered if his sponsor let him keep his natural dark hair.
I scrolled into his personal history data and found no trace of him over the last week. No location sign-ins as required, and no sponsor logins. I had to turn off the security protocols I found when I delved deeper to be sure I wouldn't be traced. All of the data files time coded over the past week to Costa's personal file had been encrypted with a high level clearance to bypass the basic searches. The clearance was higher than Anthony's basic DNA ID code, so I would have to try another route.
Going deeper into Costa's files I made a copy of his DNA ID, which wasn't hard since as his twin mine was virtually identical and sent out a search into the global security grid to see what response I received. The system should have a record of events and vids associated with that ID wherever it may have landed. From there, I should be able to see what Costa had been up to.
I wasn't sure what results I would get using Anthony's ID this way. It was his personal password, the one required for entry into the Hub, that he used for highly sensitive materials and government contracts details. How far I could push his DNA ID without tripping over any alarms? If I was discovered by an agency during this, even Anthony's contacts would have difficulty preventing me from being quarantined for misuse of para-human abilities.
A series of results came up with the past week's details locked away. Information was difficult to erase on the grid without setting off a series of watcher software; it was easier to block a snippet or section of data to reroute past it making the system ignore it entirely. All of Costa's connections to the system had been altered. I read the code they made along the firewall and I recognized the style of programming immediately. It was Anthony's.
I knew how Anthony structured his tech and I had no trouble bypassing the simple block without alerting the trespass. The first hidden trace of Costa pulled up a security vid. The audio had been tampered with and just sent back white noise as I watched a scene of Anthony and Costa meeting in what looked like a darkened parking structure.
My heart swelled at the first visual sight of my twin I'd had in so long. I couldn't hear what was said but Costa was clearly unhappy, angry even. The snarl on his face brought back so many memories. Anthony appeared equally angry and the argument quickly grew animated with neither man backing down.
At least not until Anthony pulled that same device from his jacket that he used on the janitor at Havisall's and brought Costa to the ground.
I watched in shock as Costa fought the pulses from the tech on the base of his skull, no doubt trying to control the pacifier even as he writhed, scratched and ultimately lost the battle. Anthony just watched in satisfaction as he pointed the remote at Costa even past the point where my brother had been subdued. Putting away the small controller, he continued to watch Costa twitch on the concrete floor.
Then Anthony pulled a pistol from under his jacket and I couldn't stop watching him put one then two bullets into my helpless brother until he stopped moving all together.
I fought the urge to retch as I could feel the cold spreading through my limbs. It was becoming difficult to read through the tears that filled my eyes, but I couldn't stop now. I needed to know what happened next. There were more suppressed files with Costa's DNA tags. Was there some small chance he had survived? It seemed unlikely, but I couldn't stop now.
The next file was a communication link with Anthony ordering an officer from Quarantine for a pickup. The previous vid continued as a small team of Quarantine agents arrived, collected Costa and apparently sanitized the area. The vid ended when Costa's DNA trace disappeared from the site. The next file was the acquisition log at Quarantine for the new arrival. The last file was an incineration order on number 006252. The order was marked complete. There were no more active tags in the system.
The monitor went quiet as my mind recoiled out the Link and I fell to the kitchen floor, unable to breathe.
My heart squeezed itself so tight my cries were silent. No shrieking noises were found, just sad gasps for breath pooled on the tiles amongst my tears. My anguish was so consuming its sounds never reached the air. I knew the likelihood of seeing Costa again in person was against the odds but his loss opened a dry well in my soul. Nothing would ever be the same again.
I'm not sure how long I laid there weeping in the kitchen. When I lost the strength to cry, I curled upon myself unable to see or feel the ones and zeros interconnecting the world. For once I was calm without the Calm. It was fortunate that Anthony was holed up in the Hub. I couldn't have explained my state.
Thoughts of Anthony Swaden began to fill my mind. I was trapped in here, owned by the very man who removed the only person I loved in my life. My life was subject to his will and although he'd always shown himself to care for me before this, I couldn't fathom what my future held now. How would I look this man in the eye? How could I live in the same household of this monster? There was no place to run to, no shelter that could hide me. What would I do? The same question filtered into my thoughts as I pondered my options.
What would Costa do?
The butt of my palm scrubbed the wetness off my cheeks as I answered that to myself. I knew what Costa would do if given the chance. I took a deep breath, reached deep inside to find my fear and turn all the ones connected to it to zero. Costa would not be lost to despair and in honor of him, I resolved not to be either. Sadness took on the form of anger as I took on the stronger parts of my twin into myself and prepared my next step.
I wiped the history of the monitor and set about making dinner.
* * * *
“It's nice to finally not be spending my evening in the Hub for a change. Five nights in a row can be a little much,” Anthony said.
Many hours had been spent into the multi-course meal I'd prepared for us. We'd barely spoken for over a week beyond what was necessary and it was time to make peace. I needed calm in the house for many reasons. The roast game hens were filling the kitchen with savory aromas that made Anthony salivate; it was his favorite. A soufflé baked gently in the second oven for dessert. Since I’d arrived, we had no use for a cook. With my need for precision combined with absolute access to every recipe in the Link, the task was just one more addition to my resume.
Anthony sat at the table, grinning contently as he finished off the bowl of tomato bisque before him that started the feast. The napkin dabbed at the small drops that were nearly lost in his enthusiasm. When the bowl was empty, he leaned back in his chair, eagerly awaiting the next course.
“That was magnificent, Poll. I can't believe you went to all this trouble.”
“It was the least I could do, Anthony.”
I rose from the table and cleared the dishes to move on to what came next. I opened the warmer and brought out two plates, the hens with a sampling of fresh vegetables and saffron rice. Special attention was paid to the presentation; I wanted it to be as beautiful as it was delicious. The look on Anthony's face as I sat them before us was beginning to show a hunger for more than just the food.
“I'm sorry I've neglected you.”
“You have important work to complete.”
His eyes darkened. “I'm going to savor this, Poll. Then afterwards, I'm going to devour you the same way.”
I smiled playfully. “Is my meal giving you improper ideas, Anthony?”
“You have no idea.” The flush of color on his cheeks was proof of that, which was exactly what I was waiting for.
“Good,” I said. I reached into my pocket and tossed the Calm dispenser onto the table. Anthony stared at the small item in confusion, so utterly out of place in this room.
“What's that for?”
I pushed back my chair and stood turning to the buffet along the wall. “Seasoning.”
With a twisted brow, Anthony's eyes shifted from the dispenser to the food and back to me several times as the realization crept over his expression. I watched carefully, leaning back against the buffet while casually reaching into one of its many drawers. When Anthony convinced himself of what I'd done, his face grew fiercely unhappy.
“You drugged me?” Both of his hands slammed flat on the table as he prepared to stand. I brought that idea to a halt as I leveled the pistol hidden in the drawer at his chest. It was a solid and unfamiliar weight in my hand but I was determined to make my point.
“Stay down, Anthony. I'd hate to have to hurt you.”
He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the remote I'd seen him use twice – once in front of me on the janitor at Havisall's and once on the security vid with Costa as his victim. I stood unmoving as he pressed the button, the ones and zeros coning outward, bathing me in the loathsome code. His face fell when nothing happened.
“It's not going to work, Anthony. You can stop pressing the button now.” I continued to aim the gun resisting the urge to tighten my finger on the trigger.
Anthony's face screwed itself in disbelief. “That's not possible. You need my private password to shut down the pacifier. Anything less will set it off.”
“I'm well aware of that. I didn't turn off the pacifier. I've read the signal off your remote. I didn't change anything, just added a line of code to ignore your personal frequency. Now sit still before I put a bullet into you.”
A smug grin appeared as he looked down the barrel. “That's my gun. You can't use it. It's coded to my DNA.”
My thoughts reached into the micro-processor on the weapon and it beeped to indicate the safety was off and loaded the first round into the chamber audibly. Anthony's smirk flattened instantly. My hand may have been unsteady, but it was no less lethal at this range.
“I've been signing your correspondence for years with your DNA ID, Anthony. I memorized it a long time ago. It's nothing to convince this gun that it's you holding it.” I took a deep breath to center myself. “Unregistered and coded to you personally. This is the gun you murdered Costa with isn't it?”
I already knew the answer. I found the pistol and did my research before I decided what I needed to do. Dosed with Calm, I simply waited for Anthony to answer a question that any sane man would lie about to possibly save his life. Small beads of perspiration wet his brow as he resisted my query.
Hearing it out loud was a spike in my chest. Grinding my teeth I held back the sadness that filled me waiting to spill over as tears. I inhaled sharply through my nose because I was convinced I'd start screaming if my mouth was allowed to open. The gun shook in my hand – partly from rage, partly from inexperience, and my finger tightened on the trigger. Very long seconds stretched into very long minutes as I battled with the urge to empty the weapon into him.
Anthony's eyes were growing heavy. I dosed all of his food and had merely been waiting for the Calm to take effect. Ultimately I wanted him unconscious, but there was information I needed before that could happen. I took on Costa's invisible fortitude and exhaled the building fury.
“Why did you do it?”
“Because you're mine and he was taking you away from me.”
“The two of you were keeping secrets that you weren't planning on sharing with me. I only found out by accident. You loved him more than me.”
My eyes went wide in astonishment; I couldn't believe what I was hearing. “OF COURSE I LOVED HIM MORE! He was my brother. My twin.” I shook my head to rein in the raw sensations that flooded me. “I have been many things for you over the years, Anthony. But none of them was ever being in love with you.”
“But I took such good care of you.” The lost look on his face was unbelievable. He honestly thought that was enough to wipe away what he'd done, that his crime was allowable.
“You bought me.”
Anthony shrugged. “You never minded being at the top of the food chain.”
A twinge of shame colored my cheeks. “You're right. I may have been content with my life once upon a time. I might have even grown to love you in some small way, but you ruined it. In your selfish jealousy you erased the one thing in this world that gave me hope. You showed me what I really am. I'm a slave. And you helped turn a whole group of people into slaves as well.”
“Something had to be done. The human race needed to be protected and they hired me to do it.”
“By removing the rights of an entire segment of the population. Herding them into camps and categorizing them into something less than human as some kind of loophole to allow the indignities you designed.” I wrapped my free arm around my chest to give me strength. “That's going to come to an end and you're going to help me.”
His heavy brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“You're going to give me your personal password tonight. I need it to get into the Hub. With that, I can make amends for everything. Everything you've done. Everything I've allowed to happen.”
Anthony's head shook on a loose pivot. “I can't give you that. It's too important.”
“You change it every week for security. I know it's not written anywhere, so tell me. What's the password now?”
Anthony's eyes were becoming glazed and his words were beginning to slur. Even his head was showing difficulty in staying upright. Time was limited. Before long, the Calm would overwhelm him and put him to sleep for hours at least and if he wouldn't tell me before that occurred, all my efforts would be lost. I only had one chance; in my rush I hadn't made up a backup plan. He needed more incentive.
Impatiently, I pressed the muzzle of the gun against his temple as it shook in my hand. The pistol's weight strained my arm as Anthony winced and trembled and did his damnedest to resist the drug's effects. His fear had burned away the arousal effects of the Calm but its truth-divulging nature was drowning him.
The boil in my blood made every pulse throb in my temple as I held my personal demon in thrall. The urge to create an expressionist painting in crimson and grey matter was very strong. But that was Costa's influence; he owned his emotions in ways I never was comfortable with. I was not a killer in spite of what Anthony had done.
“What is your personal password, Anthony?” I growled in a voice that sounded nothing like me.
I nudged him again with the gun. I wouldn't kill him. That's not what I wanted, but he didn't need to know that. He trembled with a weakness I'd never seen before and it empowered me. He would never make me submit to him again after this as I watched his eyes watering. Shaking horribly, I could see his resolve was fracturing. One more push.
“WHAT'S THE PASSWORD?” I cried. Salty sobs wet his cheeks as he crumbled, halting syllables revealing my prize.
“AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” My anguish finally filled the room with a throat-ripping scream and the gun jumped with a vicious recoil as I pulled the trigger.
I still held the gun aloft as Anthony's faceless body slumped to the floor. My teeth ground so hard my jaw refused to open. That was not supposed to happen but the flash of vengeance consumed me completely once the damning words left his mouth. It was as if the wrath of the Furies came down and guided my hand when I hadn't had the strength before. I would have thought the act of killing him would have been harder than that, but my rage leveled out into purpose. A strange calm that had nothing to do with the drug came over me. Now I had no choice but to go through with my plan.
Still carrying the pistol that my hand refused to release, I walked through the apartment to the private elevator that led to the Hub. The twin doors were more formidable than they appeared, reinforced in case of emergency. Once you were inside, you could hold off a small army. Perfect.
I held my breath as I fed the lift's systems Anthony's DNA ID and the loathsome password. The metal doors slid open with a smooth hiss giving me the first access I'd ever had. The ride to the Hub was short, up one level, and when the doors opened again, I was nothing short of impressed.
Layers of holographic monitors were suspended from the walls in all directions, their positions radiating from a central pedestal upon the dais led to by a small set of steps. Threads of ones and zeros streamed from each monitor directly to the kiosk proving its location to be the central link to everything here.
Hesitantly, I stepped up onto the platform and the room came alive. Every screen brought up countless lines of information, the binary threads weaving into rich digital tapestries that stretched to the pedestal. It was so beautiful to me and I was the only person capable of seeing it.
One quick scan of my thoughts over the multiple touchscreen panels mounted to the pedestal told me everything I needed to know about this elaborate technology. There was nothing like this in the world. Anthony was a genius. From here, I had complete access to the Link and a global connection that the governments couldn't possibly know about. Using his codes I could read all the schematics and software of para-human tech currently in use and those slated for future manufacturing.
Knowing what was next, I carefully placed the gun on the floor and stood before the kiosk, hands flexing, afraid to touch the control screens. This would be far beyond anything I'd ever done before. Without the global interface in front of me, it wouldn't be possible. The worldwide Link was so huge. Could I control it?
I thought of Costa and his unwavering bravery and reminded myself what he would do if given the chance that I had. I lay each hand on the outermost touchscreen to each side of me. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and opened my mind.
Screams echoed through the Hub as my mind raced to the four corners of the globe at the same time. Never before had knowledge been so alluring and excruciating at once. My hands were fixed to the controls as the binary spasms held me in place. The ones and zeros filled my eyes and mouth as I struggled to distill the information down into something useable. I was losing myself in the Link. My consciousness was being spread too thin and I was losing cohesion.
I needed to act quickly before I was lost.
I found the network of all pacifier technology in use and gave the maintenance shutdown command before wiping all code related to the devices, the detail specs and all upcoming research and archives. Ones became zeros for every enslaved para-human in the world at once. None of the pacifiers would function again and all details on how to make them had been permanently scrubbed of any data. With the sheer power the Hub was giving me, I bulled my way past all security protocols and firewalls as if they were tissue paper. I even destroyed the off-site backup files. No more of us would be paralyzed to be gunned down like animals in the pasture.
Numbness began to singe my extremities and the taste of blood painted the back of my throat. My time was limited. The Hub was so much more than connecting to the Link, it was threatening to kill me, but this would have been impossible without it.
Holding on to my degrading sense of self, I found every para-human facility across the globe and shut them all down. I opened all doors, powered down all security measures and set everyone free, all at once. No more second-class citizens. The rest of the world would have to learn that they can't treat us as less than human as my thoughts merged with the machine.
* * * *
I woke to find myself on the floor before the kiosk. Binary code filled my thoughts so completely, I couldn’t form a command to make my own arms and legs to move. It was hard to focus into coherent ideas; my understanding was drifting on the Link like sand on the breeze.
How long had I been here? I tried to sync with the global clock, but the effort garbled my thinking. My awareness was still spread throughout the Link, but I found myself only able to read from it, unable to influence it. It was as if the Link was my mind now, but it had little resources to spare to maintain my weak and possibly dying body.
It took several hours to piece my memories together. The Hub's history files filled in the blanks and I had to follow my own DNA signature to read the last day cycle. I had killed my sponsor. I had commandeered the main source of information known to man. I had dismantled the para-human chains in our world. The very idea was unfathomable. I needed to know more.
The newsfeeds were still in my ability to read without risk. Information across the globe streamed in at alarming rates over the Quarantine shutdowns.
Vids and live articles appeared everywhere. Riots were breaking out between humans and para-human detainees, many para-human men and women exacting revenge over a lifetime of slavery. Lifetimes of indignities were being revenged upon for the first time in far too many years. Census counts began recording the human casualties. My stomach churned at the images of violence. I had pulled the trigger on Anthony and still this gave me pause.
The only comfort I took was the thought that the para-humans would have the power to protect themselves for the first time in their lives. The human population couldn't contain them with fear and slave technology anymore. They would be free. With those thoughts I found a sense of peace over the acts I performed to get to this place. I might be able to put Costa to rest.
An odd series of ones and zeroes caught my attention. The scrambled stream of data danced through the Link in all directions, landing everywhere simultaneously. What was this?
An encrypted file codenamed “Pariah Revolution Control” was being mass broadcast to all Link addresses with a military ID. The encryption unraveled itself by my thoughts and I gasped at the military communiqués; the humans were already retaliating. Inside were the intricately detailed plans to deal with the “Pariah Menace.”
Wholesale slaughter was being planned against the refugees. The humans had declared war. It was their final solution. I could read their transmissions but was powerless to intercept or force any of the tech away. In my haste, I hadn't thought of this; I'd led my people into the furnace. I couldn't find a way to save anyone. With brutal precision, the authorities assaulted encampments and laid waste to any and all para-human survivors. More images of horror were added to my photographic memory.
My body betrayed me as I helplessly watched the death toll scroll higher and higher as the humans exterminated my people. Identification numbers of the pariah deceased were catalogued automatically by the population census systems. The numbers quickly paled in comparison to the humans. Endlessly they kept adding as tears wet my face and puddled on the floor beneath me.