For the background on the Pills series, read this first Link.
If not, enjoy Edwin’s (@edgothboy) take on the Red Pill.
That’s what I’ve spent two thirds of my life doing.
The beard on my cheek and the wild moustache atop my lip are a mask, making me virtually indecipherable from any of the other hundred shaft men who are indentured to the multinationals for centuries of inherited debt. We are buried alive in this rock face, drilling for the gold which adorns the eyelashes, skin, nails and teeth of tailed people of this city. It is the new craze, a ‘fiercely original’ trend aggressively marketed by the multinationals and embraced by the nouveau riche tailed families who have slowly amassed aristocratic airs in the last decade. Doctors were outlawed ten years ago, so none of them know that gold is a toxin; few of them will live past the new decade. I have kept to myself in the year I have been here. I have never drilled, instead I work as a tracker, follow the advance party and guide them to pockets of untapped gold. Tracking is a lonely task, no need for camaraderie, just how I like it.
There are forty two untapped gold pockets in the entire rock face. It takes the drill party about a week to scour it out and another to sort and send to the surface through transportation vents that are too narrow for humans to pass. There is only one way out of the mine, through the single service elevator which is electronically calibrated to only open under voice command from one of the four foremen who keep order and calculate what is left of the debt that traps the shaft men down here. I heave my backpack and make my way to the right wing of the mine, towards the foreman’s cove. My backpack is my woman, and I am a jealous lover. It never leaves my sight, I have had the clothes torn off my back but miraculously my backpack stayed strapped to my belly.
Do not be deceived by the grime that covers it, it is a state of the art travel backpack favoured by the untailed explorers. It cost 20,000 shekels of gold. Don’t worry, none of it came from my pocket. Money is the least of my concerns, not with the things that have been done to me and the people I have wronged. If you listen closely, beneath the din of pneumatic drills and the incessant slosh of water sieve gold out of ore, you’ll hear the rattle coming from the front pocket of my bag. Sixteen wisdom teeth jangling against each other, each extracted by hand and saved. Shorn hair from face, head and body fill the larger compartment, awaiting an opportune moment to be destroyed by fire. Apart from the artificial mulch on my face, I am shorn hairless. DNA is a precious commodity in this age, and mine is more than worth its weight in diamonds.
Twenty years ago, a cache of the brightest doctors the segregated world had even seen, stole from the Multinationals and fled. The thing they stole was supposed to be the next stage in evolution, the PILL project.
Unfinished, it boasted the unique power of bestowing superhuman gifts on the untailed with something as innocuous as a capsule. There had been rumours of the project being transferred to other hands, the doctors felt betrayed. They had dedicated their lives to their work, spoon fed promises of glory even greater than Francois Garou, the man who had created the tail graft. The doctors escaped into the long abandoned caverns in the wilderness and set up testing labs, shielded from the multinationals electronic glare by kilometres of bedrock. They tested and found that the genome responsible for the mutation could be isolated but little else could be done with it. It would not bind with adults and once dried, it lost its potency. The superhuman capsule was but a pipe dream. By this time, the multinationals had exacted revenge the only way they knew, they annihilated everyone the rebels held dear. It seemed pointless to abandon their research.
The test subjects were specifically chosen from the four camps that served the changing labs, 56 children who had shown the promise of extra sensory perception, untouched by the hormones of puberty. One by one they stole us from our parents and subjected us to torture: needles, brainwashing, starvation, sensory deprivation; it was almost like they had taken their anger at the multinationals out on us. As parting gifts, they injected us with the genome, taunting us with a ballot and raffle, symbols of transparency. It turned us into something other, terrible dangerous things. When we turned, terrified and hyperactive from the adrenaline the genome rode as it invaded our cells, we lashed out at each other and the ones who had created us; it was a bloodbath, with me as one the unlucky who survived.
The watch on my wrist begins to tick, I have ten minutes. I duck into a crevice mere seconds before two men walk past, armed to the teeth, chattering to one another about the rumors of visitors from the surface. I let them pass, not bothering to send an encrypted message to the nano-bots embedded in their spines to immobilize them with a jolt of electricity. Collateral damage does nothing for me, not with the Yakuza’s dogs on my trail. Yes, it surprised me too when I found out the underground crime world had escaped largely untouched by the conflict that blighted the world above. In fact, it had drawn them together, made them closer. I was fifteen when I caught their eye, hoarse with puberty and jaded from the horrors that I inadvertently stumbled upon. The informant had spotted me, using my gift to pass as a psychic, exchanging secret information about lovers and rivals for coin. He recognised what I was, and set the trap for me. Harmless aid he had said, just the contents of an email from a rival sushi restaurant’s server. They found me three days later, catatonic in a back alley. I had been fighting a new kind of virus, a Trojan. It had embedded itself in my head and replicated, befuddling my thoughts and blocking synapse messages from my body to my brain.
They ‘cured’ me and indentured me to their service. I spent 10 years with the Yakuza, an electronic offshore bank and whatever else they need me to be. You see, I got the red pill, and for an hour each day, the internet becomes an extension of my brain, Terabytes of data analysed in seconds, Volumes of data manipulated with a thought. Omniscient and electronically omnipotent, I was their totem and demigod, safe to say no one was amused when I erased my electronic footprint and escaped their clutches.
A stream of data imprints itself on my subconscious from a rogue Kremlin satellite, trained it on my location. The transponders that litter the mine act as an electro-magnetic grid, tracking the location of the shaft men. I single out data from the elevator. It’s descending and packed with nearly a hundred multinational mercenaries. The Yakuza must have sold my location to the multinationals in the hopes of flushing me out. No matter, I swiftly rewrite the software that controls the elevator, causing it to glitch and begin an ascent. The figures in the elevator cab begin to fidget, whispering to each other through their communicators, the relay station feeding me their conversation. They are sure I am here. Manual descent is the only alternative. I cross the cavern between the foreman’s lodge and the smelting room and duck inside, unlocking the pneumatic door merely a second before I touch it. The furnace is cool, no gold to melt into bars.
A quick thought and the gas valves begin to leak. I throw in my bag and the plugs spark, igniting the gas and burning all the evidence that I was here. I pat my pocket for my teeth. They are all that is left of my innocence. A rogue communication bounces off a transmitter disguised as a transponder in the north wing, the furnace has not gone unnoticed and the Yakuza spies have shed their guises and are making their way to me. They underestimate me after all these years. I slip out of the smelting room and leave the door ajar, slipping back into my enclave. Four interbred Japonais race past and barrel into the smelting room, failing to notice that the door has no visible lock mechanism. A thought and the pneumatic doors slide shut cutting off the screams that start as the gas valve open at full strength and the blaze in the smelting room turns into an inferno.
By now, the news of a surface visit is eminent and the shaft men swarm to major tunnels towards the grand cave that houses the elevator, the sickly yellow light of the bulbs casting a jaundiced pallor on their skins, I sprint through the empty dark side tunnels, using the feed from the satellite as an extra sense. The first four batches of mercenaries have slid down hastily assembled rope ladders, awaiting the last of the battalion. The remaining Yakuza sleepers are at the forefront of the shaft mob, shanks and ice picks barely hidden. They have orders to take me down if the mercenaries get to me; in the hands of the multinationals the crime families would stand no chance against me. The elevator cavern becomes an electromagnetic blur of pulses as both groups converge. I pick a random shaft man, roughly the same size and build as I am and I corrupt his nano-bot forcing him to scream information about the multinationals that only I would know, like the true nature of shaft indenture along with other closely guarded state secrets. The roar that comes from the cavern tells me the trick has worked, gun fire and death wails echo in the main cavern. I slip into a side cove just beside the cavern that houses a transport shaft, and crouch, hands over my ears. 49, 48, 47, 46… The ground begins to rumble as the tectonic plates below the mine meet and the shaft outer walls collapse, widening the hole in a hail of rubble.
One of the foremen ducks in and sees me. In a flash, he retrieves a pistol and shoots, the bullet grazes my thigh. I only have sixty seconds. I scramble into the shaft and belt myself into the harness waiting for me. 82 thousand shekels of gold electronically transferred has bought me this untailed explorer’s time and expertise. He thought he was making a fortune on an idiot; he had no idea about the quake. Shots ring out and another hits me flush in my left arm. I howl. I might be omnipotent and a master of evasion but all my tricks hold little weight against a bullet, and I have already dodged two, my luck is already run out. I send a jam signal through all the transponders in the mine. The effect is not dissimilar to an EMP. Momentary paralysis follows as the nano-bots lodged in every spine deactivates temporarily to evade the EMP. All the time I need.
A quick thought and the sophisticated pulley jerks me off the rubble and I soar.
The hour is up but I hold on as long as I can, my mind losing the ability to regulate the amount of information that bombards my head. I scream as I begin to lose coherence, using my last lucid thought to start the pneumatic drills scattered all across the mine. The cumulative vibration exacerbates the quaking and the mine rumbles. The elevator shaft collapses, blocks of chintz and brittle green olivine crumbling beneath me. The downpour cuts off exits, leaving the Yakuza and mercenaries at the mercy of the shaft men. I shut down and retreat into myself as the last of the pulley rope lassoes me into the air and the parachute embedded into the harness explodes behind me, catching a North-Easterly updraft. I don’t know how long i will drift; a thousand metre drop separates the cliff face of the mine from the canyon below.
Hopefully enough time for a brain hard reset.
This is my life now, hiding and running. They are relentless, I am determined. One day they will find me, and when that day comes, I will be ready.
Just not today.
For now, I run.