Since I wasn’t jacked in, I couldn’t see shit.
All I had was Olivia to give me updates as JJ, Aiden and Kiro made their way through the woods toward the train depot.
About halfway through waiting, I let my curiosity get the best of me. Or rather, my frustration. I just couldn’t take standing there, listening to O relate – in vivid detail – the trio’s descent toward the train, the bumps along the way, and everything inbetween. It was like listening to someone describe a scene from their favorite movie. In the end, I simply had to see it for myself.
So when Olivia wasn’t paying attention, I snuck the vial of Vert back out of her pocket. Growing up on the streets had taught me many things: the importance of shoes, the value of a warm meal, the best way to open a can without a knife… But out of everything I’d learned, pick-pocketing was easily the most useful. And I was damn good at it. So as I palmed the vial, I slipped out three beads, and pocketed the rest.
Just like old times.
There were two ways of taking Vert: Swallow and Wait or Chew and Cheek. I chose the former. It was slower and less effective, but had the benefit of not forcing me to talk around a wad of junk tucked under my lip. Think chewing tobacco – it wasn’t the easiest thing to hide. And since O had been ragging on me to take the Vert for the last half hour, I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing I’d caved.
When I was certain she wasn’t looking, I tilted my head back and downed the beads. For all my luck, she chose that exact moment to turn toward me. I almost choked as the drugs went down.
“So,” Olivia said, “you prefer to swallow.” I could practically hear the laughter in her voice as she smiled, then winked at me. “That a girl.”
“Oh shut up,” I said, though I couldn’t help the blush that rose to my cheeks. Clearly, I wasn’t as good a thief as I thought. I leaned against the side of the Jeep and let the conversation die with O’s laughter. But after a moment, my curiosity got the better of me once more. “Olivia, why do you do this?”
O smiled. “Mess with you?”
“Come on. You know what I mean. This -” I gestured to all the equipment, the Jeeps, the hillside. “ROOT 4. All of it.”
Olivia frowned. She sat down on the hood of the Jeep and crossed her legs. Her skin shone like porcelain under the moonlight, flawless as could be. “We all have our reasons, Rainey.”
“Let me guess. This another one of those things everyone gets to know but me?”
She shook her head. “It has nothing to do with privilege. We just don’t talk about the past. None of us do. Our work doesn’t leave much room for it. Knowing about each other – our families, our past lives – would only make us liabilities were we to get caught.”
“So,” I said, “you live together, you work together, you risk your lives for each other… and yet you know nothing about the others?”
Olivia laughed. “Oh, I know plenty about the boys. I know stuff that would make you blush brighter than a schoolgirl at a sausage festival.” She winked at me – she winked a lot apparently – but I didn’t falter.
“But you don’t know anything about who they were – before all of this. Before ROOT 4.”
“No,” Olivia said. “That I don’t know. Nor do I care to. We all have a past, Rainey. If you choose to let it consume you… well then, you can never truly live for tomorrow. You’ll always be too busy looking over your shoulder, wondering where you went wrong.” She paused for a moment to play with the stitching on her cut-offs. “Why we do what we do is irrelevant. All that matters is that we do it. And that we do it in the now.”
“That was… kind of deep,” I said.
For her part, Olivia simply smiled. “I know, right?”
“Okay, fine. I get what you’re saying, but there’s still got to be that one underlying reason, right? That one something that drives you. Why else would you get involved in a group like this?”
O reached under her arm and unholstered her handgun – a Glock 22. For a crazy second, I actually thought she might shoot me, but then she started to strip the weapon, carefully separating the parts out onto her lap. Eventually, she said, “I do it for the same reason I suspect the others do.”
She looked up at me, her brown eyes strikingly bright against the neon-green flares, and said one word – “revenge” – before shifting her attention back to her handgun.
I was worried I’d offended her as another silence fell over us, this one a hundred times more awkward. She was difficult to read, Olivia. The way she flipped back and forth between serious and zany was enough to give me whiplash. I didn’t know what to say to clear things up and I assumed the conversation was over when suddenly she said, “what about you?”
I stiffened. “What about me?”
“From what we’ve gathered, you haven’t had the easiest life. Why keep going? What pushes you on?”
“Are you asking why I don’t just up and off myself? Really?”
Olivia shrugged. She didn’t even look up from her handgun. “Well, why don’t you?”
“I… that’s a ridiculous question. Who asks a question like that?”
She laughed. “Is it really so ridiculous?”
“Of course it is! I -”
I stopped and thought about it. Really thought about it. The question had caught me off guard – that wasn’t surprising After all, it’s not everyday someone asks you why you don’t just kill yourself. But then, the answer that came shooting to my lips, the one that came unbidden to the tip of my tongue – that did surprise me. If only because I’d spent the better half of my life trying to forget about it.
I said it with such confidence, such surety, that even Olivia seemed taken aback. She stopped toying with her gun and set it down.
“Huh. There you go. So spill it, who’s Alice?”
“She’s… my diary.”
Olivia narrowed her eyes. “Your diary,” she said. “You live for your diary.”
I thought about the Vert I’d taken and how easy it had been to break my promise. Six years ago I’d said never again, and yet here I was, having used twice in less than a week. I thought of Alice and I thought of blood. The two were intertwined, forever and always, in my mind.
“Sure,” I said.
Olivia smirked. “Now who’s keeping secrets?”
Suddenly, the Vert kicked in. It was slow at first, a soft chill that arced through my brain and into my eyes. I felt it like a light snow settling over my consciousness. And then, a harsher chill formed. I closed my eyes, bracing myself for the inevitable burn, but it came and went – a drop in the bucket compared to the pain induced by the liquid formula. When I finally opened my eyes, barely a minute had passed.
For as far as I could see, a layer of blue light settled over the area, forming branches and links between myself and Olivia and all the devices around us. Blue lines shot out of my chest, outlining connections I was capable of manipulating through the Grid, as well as those I wasn’t.
With my fingers, I absently traced the cord between myself and Olivia and found her staring at me.
“The Vert,” I explained, gesturing around me.
“Good,” she said. “Now I don’t have to give you the blow-by-blow.” She typed something onto a floating keyboard built of blue light and suddenly a screen appeared in the bottom left of my vision, notifying me that a user was requesting a file to be shared.
“How did you..?”
Olivia flicked her hair back behind her shoulder. “Just accept already. They’re at the fence.”
I clicked ‘accept’ and the pop-up box morphed into a small screen. On it, JJ and Aiden approached the barbed wire fence surrounding the perimeter of the train depot. The camera bobbed up and down and I guessed it was pinned somewhere onto Kiro – I was seeing everything from the bosses perspective.
“What do we got, O?” Kiro’s voice sounded through the connection.
“From what we collected, the train dock should be directly ahead of you. Through the fence, fifty meters to your right. On average, three wandering guards on overlapping patrol patterns.”
Static, then, “…okay to breach? How are we looking on time?”
“Breach is a go,” Olivia said. “Twenty-five minutes until the train departs. You’re right in the window between loading and departure.”
“Perfect,” Kiro said.
I glanced at Olivia, but she was busy analyzing something on the floating display, so I turned my attention to the small screen at the bottom of my vision. It was pitch black down on the base, save for the occasional flood light that passed overhead. I watched JJ clip a hole in the fence and sneak through, Aiden and Kiro following his lead.
From there, it only took a few minutes before they were within striking distance of the train. I heard whispers through the comLink, orders of some sort, but couldn’t make out specifics. On video, I saw JJ and Aiden crouch behind a stack of supply crates. They paused for a minute, then JJ crept toward the train, sneaking up behind a roaming guard. There was a split second during which the guard turned and spotted him, but JJ was too fast. He cracked the guard over the head with his rifle and the man crumpled – Aiden catching him under the arms just before he hit the ground. Together, JJ and Aiden dragged the body back behind the crates. Then, with no other guards in sight, they boarded the train.
Kiro stayed behind, presumably to keep watch over the patrols, and with him, so too did my video feed.
I was about to tell Olivia to switch me over to Aiden or JJ’s vidfeed, when JJ’s voice came in over the connection, barely a whisper above the static. “It’s strange. The heaviest reading is coming from the second car, but it doesn’t seem right.”
Olivia gave me a nervous look before responding. “I see it, JJ. It’s either a shit ton of drugs or something else entirely.”
“I don’t like this,” Aiden chimed in. “This train is dead. There isn’t a soul in -”
“Get out of there!” Kiro shouted over the connection.
“What the fuck,” came JJ’s voice. “The train… it’s…”
I didn’t need to hear the last bit to know what was happening. Through Kiro’s vidfeed I saw the train’s outer doors seal shut, the tracks magnetize, and the train cars lift into the air. The train was taking off.
“Olivia!” Kiro shouted.
“There’s nothing I can do! The train and the depot are both rigged into their own system. It’s way too complex to hack from the outside.”
“I don’t care what you have to do. Get it done, damnit!”
I watched in horror as Kiro raced out from behind the cover of the storage crates and sprinted toward the tracks. They were fully magnetized now and the train was gaining speed, the last car approaching the breach in the perimeter fence all too fast. As Kiro reached out, stretching at full sprint to grab hold of the train car’s railing, cracks sounded across the connection and flickers of gunfire lit up the vidfeed. The bullets sparked off the train car as Kiro’s fingers found purchase on the railing. With a final effort, he grabbed hold, half-pulling, half-jumping aboard the train a mere second before it broke through the fence-line.
I walked over to Olivia who was furiously typing. “Give me your gun,” I said.
She didn’t even look up. “A little busy here, Rainey.”
I reached out with my hand. “Your gun, Olivia. Give it to me.”
This time she stopped typing and stared at me. “And just what the hell do you want with my gun?”
“JJ, Aiden and Kiro are all aboard that train now and it’s essentially off the grid. You and I both know the only way to stop it, or even redirect it, is manually. Someone’s got to go down there.” I reached out again. “Now. Your gun.”
Olivia hesitated, then handed me the Glock and a magazine. I tried not to act surprised.
“Come on, Rainey. Do you even know how to use that?”
I snapped the magazine in place, then racked the slide back, chambering a round. Olivia cocked an eyebrow. “You know,” she said. “You could just leave. Take one of the Jeeps and high-tail it out of here. Leave us for dead and get on with your life. There’s little I could do to stop you.”
I thought about that for a long moment. She was right. I could leave. I could take off and never look back. But if I went down that road, if I left now, I’d never get my answers. And I’d forever be looking over my shoulder, constantly wondering when Valtronic was going to find me and snatch me up. I couldn’t live like that.
I took a deep breath. “If you guys aren’t bullshitting me,” I said, “And for some reason I don’t think you are, I’d still have to worry about Valtronic coming after me. Besides, you guys are my protection, right? At least, that’s what you keep telling me.”
“That’s what we keep telling you,” Olivia said, smiling.
I shook my head. “What do I have to do?”
I was halfway through the woods when I heard JJ’s voice over the comLink: “Whatever you’re planning, Olivia, better do it fast.”
I clenched my fists and picked up the pace, dreading what was coming next.
“That reading from the second car,” JJ continued, “it’s…the whole train is rigged to blow.”
I think I want to see more of Olivia.
Me too. I like her 🙂
Argh. Explosive trains. They really believe in the classics, huh?
They’re nothing if not old school. Or maybe they’re changing it up a bit…
My new favorite webseries 😀
Spotted a typo:
‘…watched JJ clip a whole in the fence.’ (hole, not whole)
Thank You! That’s high praise indeed, considering what’s out there these days. Really appreciate the comment, my friend.
And thanks for the catch.
It’s refreshing to see a webnovel that isn’t just a repetition of an ordinary hero/villian story. The idea of Vert is amazing.
🙂 *warms heart*