Chapter 22:

Twenty Two

Only in Chaos Are We Conceivable

April remembered. She had been born to kill.Bookmark here

In her opinion, killing machines such as herself suffered from unpleasant misunderstandings, no doubt cinema’s poisoning of the human mind. April’s ability to murder dozens in seconds manifested itself in the public eye as ruthless carnage, a spectacle of senseless and vehement violence.Bookmark here

People refused to understand that April did not leave her victims in pain. Their ends were granted swiftly. There existed an art to the clinical and efficient delivery of death, the proper application of pressure, the angle at which the blade perforates the epidermis, the curvature at which the knife tears through flesh. All techniques performed and executed to minimize suffering.Bookmark here

So when the final fleeing StateSec agent crumbled to the floor, his spinal cord severed just above the scapula, April heard no screams. No final cry of anguish. Soldiers were not groaning on the streets with lacerated limbs and missing ligaments. Only silence remained.Bookmark here

Her nanites repaired what little damage Miles’s agents managed to inflict. As a combat model, April’s recovery abilities far outpaced that of her more cerebral designed partner, who often relied on his gorilla sized physique to appear intimidating. April always felt a nauseating disgust that Milton would be so weak that he felt the need to carry around human munitions.Bookmark here

“I’m surprised you haven’t said anything,” April chuckled at the other presence within her. “Is the old man scarred by the sight of death? Where are you, buried somewhere in the archives where you can’t hear anything?”Bookmark here

“I told you I’d leave you to it,” Professor Eichenbaum replied dryly. Despite mocking the professor for a response, April could never acclimate to the auditory sensation of his voice echoing through her mind. Perhaps she never would. “What, would you like my commentary on every soldier you’ve slain? Here’s one. ‘Optimal adjustment. Reorient the insertion angle to the femoral artery by one point three degrees.’”Bookmark here

“What the? You’ve accessed my combat logs,” April glowered. “Get out.”Bookmark here

“I accessed my combat logs,” Eichenbaum corrected. “And I’ve accessed basically every part of me at this point, so what’s so special about those logs? Here, let me read another line.”Bookmark here

“Oh forget it,” April wrestled back control of her own voice. “I really am going to fry my own brain at this rate.”Bookmark here

“I don’t know, I think we’re getting used to each other,” the professor giggled.Bookmark here

“Not funny.”Bookmark here

She brushed past the bodies lying still in the alley. Let the police deal with them in the morning, she determined. They can sort out and lose themselves in another unsolvable mystery. Or perhaps more wolves of the state would soon arrive on the scene to cannibalize the bodies. None of those possibilities mattered to April. The Plan remained unchanged.Bookmark here

April’s phone vibrated in her pocket, timed perfectly with the tune of most other devices in her auditory range. She frowned. Something tells me Milton isn’t giving me a sitrep, she thought. Suspicious, she fished the phone out of her pocket. She held it at arms length, as if scared it had been rigged to explode.Bookmark here

“Message from the administrator of Clouds,” April read aloud.Bookmark here

“Oh! Oh! That’s for me,” the professor yelped, shoving aside April’s consciousness. “Shoo, now. Let me read it. Oh, this is excellent! This is excellent news.”Bookmark here

“Care to explain?” April wedged her way back into her own mind. She managed to skim the message before the professor clicked off the phone. “What the hell is Clouds?”Bookmark here

“Oh you wouldn’t understand,” the professor lied, and April knew it. She could decode the deceptive strings in his voice. “A side project before the end of my life.”Bookmark here

But April didn’t need the professor to explain the concept to her. The voices and actions of the city within her proximity shocked her with the truth. People from all walks of life congregated to the whims of a single message, sent from an anonymous voice she had never heard before. They beat back the rioters, tended to the wounded and the dead, and routed more StateSec mercenaries arriving on the scene. Machinations she sparked into motion came undone within a matter of minutes.Bookmark here

Whatever ‘Clouds’ was, it threatened the Plan, April realized. A hint of fear crept into her mind.Bookmark here

“What’s causing the citizens to just drop what they’re doing?” April hissed. “They were just ransacking the city moments ago!”Bookmark here

“Are good people not allowed to do bad, even terrible, things?” the professor shrugged. “Perhaps they just needed a moment of clarity. Maybe they just need a gentle shove to remind them that they should be doing something else? Not so dissimilar to what you’ve done in the past.”Bookmark here

Before April could answer that incriminating suggestion, someone else entered her peripheral vision. Her sensors picked up a pair of illegally modified pistols nested underneath his black suit jacket. His ears were fitted with enhanced sensitivity transmitters. Handsome, April thought. What a shame.Bookmark here

Yuki Miyamoto stared back at his target standing before him, confused at the strange back and forth conversation that he had overheard. He glanced at the phone resting at April’s side.Bookmark here

“You’re a Cloud’s member too?” Yuki raised an eyebrow. “If so, I’ll void the contract.”Bookmark here

“Actually, how does it work if one, maybe two, out of the three of us are Clouds members?” Eichenbaum asked. “Do you round up to one? I’m just asking because our situation is a little bit complicated. Though I also have to say that I’d strongly advise whatever it is that I think you were originally planning.”Bookmark here

“Shut it,” April snapped. Yuki blinked at the quick change in demeanor. She turned to him. “You’re one of them, yes? Clouds. Tell me more about them. Why is everyone listening to this administrator?”Bookmark here

“I'm going to assume you’re the one third that isn’t part of us,” Yuki slipped his hands into his suit. “In that case, I’ll just –”Bookmark here

Yuki never touched his guns. April’s menacing figure towered over him before his fingers could even brush the grip. Nanites encased her hand, and they hardened as she wrapped her fingers into a fist. She slugged Yuki in the abdomen, cracking through his ribs as if popping bubble wrap. Bookmark here

The force of the blow tossed him against the passenger door of the taxi he just stepped out of. The back of his head cracked the window glass. Yuki’s vision blurred, his insides screamed, and his mind raced painfully aware of Erin’s final warning. The radio sitting in the taxi behind him was deathly quiet.Bookmark here

“What makes you think I’m going to just stand there and listen to you babble?” April moaned. “I asked you a question, you dolt. I left enough of your insides intact so that you can still answer me. Clouds. In. For. May. Shun. Talk.”Bookmark here

Yuki coughed blood and tasted copper.Bookmark here

“You should probably do as she asks,” Eichenbaum cautioned. “If you want, I can show you the bodies in the alley as a sign of what's to come.”Bookmark here

“Shut up,” April snarled. “What is Clouds? What did you do to trigger the city wide response? Did you reverse engineer it?”Bookmark here

“Seems like the kid really doesn’t know,” the professor pleaded. “Look, he’s bleeding pretty badly. He needs to go to a hospital. Let’s wave down a taxi or something. Or better yet, put him in this one you broke and tell it to go to the nearest one.”Bookmark here

“I said, shut up. I’m asking the questions here, old man,” April growled. After a night not understanding how an elderly loon got the best of her, she craved answers. She grabbed Yuki by the shoulders and shook violently. “Come on kid. Spit it out.”Bookmark here

“Don’t,” Yuki groaned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just one guy.”Bookmark here

“He's telling the truth. Clouds is mostly decentralized,” Eichenbaum blurted out an explanation, forcibly releasing April's grip over Yuki. “Small cells, some vigilantes, gamers, students from some nerdy club. You can’t just pick someone off the streets and ask.”Bookmark here

“Oh, so now you tell me,” April rolled her eyes, picking the man back up. “Let’s do it this way then, professor. You tell me what I want to know, or I break each of his ribs until he dies.”Bookmark here

The radio aboard the taxi behind Yuki stirred back to life. April narrowed her eyes at the intruding device, but her expression kept modulating. Yuki figured this was just another tick of the machine's unhinged personality. But even in inextricable pain, in the clutches of some schizophrenic machine, Yuki managed a sigh of relief. How many more times am I gonna owe this woman, he thought.Bookmark here

“How about I propose an unfair exchange,” sounded Erin’s crisp voice over the radio. “Dr. Eichenbaum, it’s a pleasure to see you moderately well, given the circumstances. I regret to inform you that your murderer over here did a good job wiping herself from the black box footage. A pleasure to meet you too, I guess.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” the professor asked, incredulous.Bookmark here

“Not quite, but I’ve come into possession of someone you do know,” Erin replied. “Please turn around, professor.”Bookmark here

A convoy of vehicles strolled down the street behind April. With most of the rabid crowds dispersing, the low hum of their engines became audible. But what was important was the young woman sitting forlorn inside the center red taxi flanked by two vans.Bookmark here

April’s eyes widened. Her shifting expressions stopped as both her and the professor shared the same emotions for vastly different reasons.Bookmark here

“Milena,” Eichenbaum whispered. “After all these years...”Bookmark here

“How did you find her?” April’s shocked voice leaked through. “But. Milton. He...he hasn’t called.”Bookmark here

“An astute observation,” Erin replied. “Unfortunately, I have little time to negotiate. Professor, if you wish to see your daughter again, you will immediately initiate your partner’s deep sleep sequence. I’m sorry. It's the best I can do at this time. Have a good night you two.”Bookmark here

“You dirty little,” April swore. She broke out of her mystified trance. The nanites in her hand stirred again and formed thin long blades. They drew close to Yuki’s neck. “We’re not finished yet! I still have – ”Bookmark here

Professor Eichenbaum did as he was commanded. The nanites disintegrated into vapor. April’s eyes fluttered and closed, and the rest of her body crumbled to the floor. Yuki fell back onto the side of the taxi.Bookmark here

“Fussy, fussy,” Erin sighed. “That’s two missing entries. Speaking of which, Yuki. You still alive? Do I need to bring out the book?”Bookmark here

“Don’t make me talk too much,” he winced.Bookmark here

“I warned you,” Erin said. “Come on. Climb into the back of the vehicle.”Bookmark here

“You’re just going to leave her here?” Yuki asked, heaving himself into the backseat. Bookmark here

The door closed behind him. The navigation system reactivated and a light in the backseat reminded him to strap in his seat belt. The car sputtered and rolled forward, moving opposite the convoy of taxis carrying Milena Eichenbaum into hiding.Bookmark here

Yuki Miyamoto turned to look at April’s body through cracked glass. His abdomen screamed at him, but he ignored the pain. From afar, April June, now once again April Browne, appeared like a kind of sleeping princess. Her psychotic rampage had been replaced by the soft even breathing of unconsciousness. She would later be found as an unconscious civilian, surrounded by strewn and bloodied bodies, and the next morning she would moonlight as a gossip columnist again.Bookmark here

“Stop moving. And stop talking so much,” Erin threw his own request back at him. Yuki coughed again and smeared his cufflinks with drops of blood. His vision dimmed further. The taxi sped up, urgent towards its destination. Erin’s voice was laced with unusual worry. “There’ll have to be another time to deal with the likes of her.”Bookmark here

⁂⁂⁂ Bookmark here

“Professor Eichenbaum and I discovered a conspiracy at the end of the case in ‘54.” Helena said, her hand still holding steadfast to Jay’s. “The deaths of those children was done to provoke a society wide emotional response. Turn public opinion against cybernetics, near bankrupt Fukuyama Industries, and reverse decades of research into cybernetics and artificial cognition.”Bookmark here

They stared out over the park. Sasha had left minutes before with Dojo in tow.Bookmark here

“I’m off to find Miles,” she had said, pulling her goggles over eyes. “Unfinished business.”Bookmark here

“We believed there were individuals hiding among us,” Helena continued. “Their purpose was to direct human society along a course of their choosing. Turn us away from things using disastrous brutal spectacles. Dead children.”Bookmark here

“People like Miles?”Bookmark here

“No,” Helena shook her head. “If I had to guess, Miles is nothing more than a pawn to them. This conspiracy that I’m talking about. It isn’t interested in our destruction. It just wants to manage our destination. Someone like Miles is useful when you need to cause trouble. There will always be those like him.”Bookmark here

“Nothing more than a pawn,” Jay repeated. Dark clouds approached. “If they don’t want to destroy us, then what’s their end goal?”Bookmark here

“I really don’t know, Jay. They have other tools when they want to restore the peace,” Helena explained. “Social opiates for the masses, the natural defenses of the epochal commodified world order. The Edge tokens that we own now are proof of that. Tonight, the Edge crisis will pass. Tomorrow, people will find a way to sell them to the highest bidder. This, too, is likely part of their design.”Bookmark here

“So what’s this Clouds business about then?” Jay asked. Watching over the city, he saw the red fires begin to dim. The shouting subsided. Order descended on the city almost as quickly as the chaos had enraptured it. “Do you know all of those people down there?”Bookmark here

“Of course not. That would be ridiculous,” Helena laughed. “They’re just normal people.”Bookmark here

“Helen, that’s not answering my question.” Jay said.Bookmark here

“Quite right,” Helena leaned forward over the railing. “The people of Clouds are free to live their lives. They’re everywhere and nowhere. ‘Only in chaos are we conceivable.’ It’s a quote from another old colony text. A novel. A favorite of mine really.”Bookmark here

“Clouds falls under my sway because they feel the severity of our mission,” Helena continued. “When I call, they too recognize that forces have gathered to shackle us in place. We’re necessary to reject covert manipulation and false prophets. We cut through the artificial architecture folded between us and the world. They don't listen because they hear my voice. They listen because they hear theirs.”Bookmark here

Jay ruminated for a while on her explanation. The two stood silent, fingers intertwined. Helena’s shoulder leaned on his. It was comforting.Bookmark here

He could see their short breaths rise upwards into the frigid night. Their breaths appeared like fog, as opaque and mysterious as the existence of Clouds itself. Jay found himself groping through this desolate fog, surrounded by unknown faces and cosmic forces beyond his imagining.Bookmark here

Jay was, at the end of the day, a simple man. A detective with a tarnished reputation. He owned a mystical cat. The complexities of these sorts of things bothered him to no end. After all, to him, all complex ideas felt burdened by the simplest flaws.Bookmark here

“But haven’t you become a prophet yourself?” Jay wondered aloud. “Who's to say you aren’t moving society in the same selfish directions as the people in this conspiracy? Does it even exist? And if it does, what if you’re another one of their puppets?”Bookmark here

Helena nodded in agreement, a response Jay did not expect. For the first time, Jay Sakamoto saw a profound unsettling weariness descend upon her often resolute eyes. She released his hand. Wintry air filled the space where her warmth had left him.Bookmark here

“That may be true, Jay. That may even be necessary. Now, come on. Let’s go home.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.