Chapter 1:

Trouble at the DERT

Trouble In Paradise

Standing on the platform, the locomotive towers above me. It resembles an old-fashioned steam train, yet its capable of travelling at up to 500 mph. The fastest train on the planet. It’s truly incredible how far society has advanced in such little time, appearances can’t evolve quickly enough to reflect the technology within.

Inside the first-class coaches I see several wealthy individuals drinking and laughing amongst one another, they are identifiable by their gleaming metal cladding and numerous cybernetic upgrades.

A high-pitched whistle shrills through the air.

“All aboard!” yells the train conductor, his arms beckoning me towards the train.

Moving away from the luxury coaches I arrive at the rear of the train, full to the brim with people like myself. Our cybernetic upgrades are scarce and impractical, we’re barely better than those who have none at all.

Cybernetic upgrades are the biggest indicator of class within society, the more you have the more wealthy and powerful you are perceived to be. Those who reside in the highest echelons of the world are essentially human brains living in robot bodies.

People pay for these upgrades using data, the most precious resource in the world. Through giving away your own as well as other people’s data, you can buy anything you could ever want.

I briefly catch my reflection as I begin to board the train, my crimson hair is messy and my suit unkempt. Dark circles around my eyes serve to remind me of the hours I spent awake last night, fearful of the morning I’m currently living through.

My name is Dante Aito, an 18-year-old boy living in what used to be regarded as Tokyo but is now known as paradise. My parents died when I was young, leaving me with nothing but the robotic red eye that marks me as a cyborg.

The faces of those around me share the same nonchalant expression, the look of defeat. The only thing we have left is our individuality, soon even that will be taken from us as our data is seized.

During the train journey I cannot help but curse those who came before me for the predicament I currently find myself in. All those years of accepting cookies when browsing the internet and thinking nothing of it, completely oblivious to the unknown danger growing stronger by the second.

When the corporation COOKIES finally revealed themselves, they had amassed enough data to rule the world, but that still wasn’t enough for them. They threatened never to stop until everything and everyone was under their control.

Plagued by desperation, society’s leaders encouraged people to fuse their personal data with their living consciousness to shield themselves from the advancements of COOKIES. This failed miserably however, as COOKIES found a way to break the barrier of consciousness and access the data anyway through a process, they named mind fracturing.

This meant that they could now use the threat of death to get what they wanted, and people had no choice but to bend to the will of those who held all life in the palm of their hand.

Every year on the 29th of August – the anniversary of the first successful mind fracture, individuals aged 18 and over are instructed to go to the Data Engine Report Terminal (DERT) and surrender their data for processing or face death.

Today is the 29th of August. I am riding the train to the DERT, with the intention of giving away my freedom, because I have no other choice.

By the time the train reaches its destination, the sun has begun retreating from view. The moons rays dance alongside the vibrant purple and orange lights coming from the electronic billboards which illuminate the streets of paradise.

I exit the train and begin to leave the subway station, carried along by the bustling crowd. As I reach the surface, I see the busy square is inhabited by COOKIES operatives assembling people like myself into orderly lines.

Swallowing my fear I step forward to take my place amongst them, however my wandering mind causes me to trip and fall forwards.

To my surprise before I can faceplant the ground a hand grabs me round the scruff of my neck and yanks me back to my feet. My saviour is a tall, androgynous woman with frizzy ginger hair and a beaming white smile. She is wearing blue denim dungarees with an orange t shirt underneath, and I notice the hand she grabbed me with is made completely out of metal.

“Watch your step mister! Hell I wasn’t even trying to sweep you off your feet.” She remarks, smirking and winking playfully.

“Really sorry about that” I reply sheepishly as I brush myself off, “I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble.”

“Don’t worry about it kiddo, you look like you’ve got a lot on your mind, care to share?”

I glance around nervously to make sure no one else is eavesdropping before responding.

“I hate everything about this, none of it feels right. It just doesn’t feel right that they get to claim my data this way. If it’s mine it should belong to me, right?”

The stranger pauses for a moment before responding, her smile now replaced with a steely look of intent.

“It does belong to you, but that doesn’t change the fact that people will try anything and everything to change that. The only way to protect what is yours is to fight for it.

Her eyes stare right through me, as silence permeates through the air. Suddenly she begins smiling again, the glint in her pupils playful once more, as if she has no recollection of what she just said.

“At the end of the day it’s your choice kiddo, only you can decide how you want to live your life. Anyways, I’ll be seeing you.”

“Wait a minute!” I cry out, “What’s your name?”

Continuing to walk away from me, without turning around she replies.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to earn that one honey.”

As the stranger flees into the heaving crowd, the piercing shriek of a siren snaps me back to reality. Suddenly a robotic voice begins booming through the speakers spread across the square, paralyzing me in fear.


Instinctively I race over to the other side of the square and join the line for the DERT. As I inch closer to the front of the line time seems to grow slower, I begin to drip with sweat as my chest grows tight with anxiety. I reflect on what the stranger had said earlier, what was it she said again?

Fight for what’s mine? It’s my choice?

What the hell am I supposed to do?

I have no power here. These people have controlled every aspect of my life since the day I was born, nothing about me matters to them in any way. Since nothing matters, then everything I try is pointless and futile, but shouldn’t I keep trying anyway?

If I give up now then I’ll essentially be no better than dead for the rest of my life, at least I can choose to go out on my own terms.

Besides, I’d rather die than live as a slave anyway.

My newfound confidence falters as I realise something terrible, I am at the front of the line.

Before me stands a man clothed in a black uniform, with a dark tinted visor covering the top half of his face. His raises his arm and beckons me forward with his hefty, gloved hand. As I slowly inch towards him his wry smile parts as he begins to speak.

“Hurry up now, we’re nearly done here, and I need to get home before my dinner gets cold. You wouldn’t want my dinner to get cold, would you?”

I avert my eyes from his mocking gaze and stammer at the ground.

“I-I wouldn’t want that sir.”

“Good boy” he jeers, his voice dripping with condescension “Now tell me your name.”

I pause for a moment to take a deep breath and compose myself, something about the tone of this man’s voice fills me with fury. I lift my head, staring at this man with an intense hatred.

“My name is Dante Aito, son of Shigeo and Tomiko Aito. I declare here and now that you will not have my data, I stake my life upon it.

The man looks puzzled for a second, before doubling over and laughing so loud that my ears begin to ache.

“Oh dear” he begins before laughing once more, tears now streaming down his face, “All day I’ve been waiting for a punk like you to show up, we get one every year. I don’t why I’m laughing this much; it must have been the way you talked.”

The man stands up straight and twists his face into a caricature of my own.

My name is Dante Aito, I have parents or something” continuing to imitate me, “I want my data because I’m selfish and stupid blah blah blah.

My fury burns even deeper within me, I notice that my hand has clenched into a fist without me even knowing. To my surprise I realise that my fist has begun to hurl towards the man’s stupid, ugly face.

The blow sends the man reeling to the ground, his visor shattered revealing his broken, bloody nose. The adrenaline coursing through my veins helps me to ignore the throbbing pain in my hand.

The man scrambles back to his feet, his face now dark as thunder.

“Oh you’re in for it now you brat. You have no idea what you’ve just done.”

I stare in horror as the top of the man’s head splits open, a machine gun starts to emerge up and out of his scalp. Despite his shattered nose and broken teeth, the man’s wry smile returns.

“You have refused to accept COOKIES. COOKIES are required to access life. Now Die!” The man screams at me with murderous intent.

I remain rooted to the ground in fear, a metallic taste in my mouth. This is it. I’m going to die. As I peer deep into the jaws of death, I hear a commotion behind me. I turn around to see the crowd rapidly dispersing, I catch a flash of orange and blue as it flies towards me.

The stranger from earlier races closer, soaring above the ground on a neon purple hoverboard at an incredible speed. Suddenly they bend their knees before springing off the hoverboard, launching themselves high into the air.

Adrenaline surges through me once more as I jump out of the way of the incoming hoverboard. The man with the gun sprouting out of his head must still be dazed however, as the hoverboard flies straight into his privates.

The man cries out in anguish, before releasing a volley of bullets at the stranger who is now poised to strike in the air above him. Expertly twisting and somersaulting over the projectiles, she dodges the bullets completely in mid-air.

The strangers metal hand swiftly shoots out from the wrist, attached to a snaky metal coil. As the hand grasps the man’s gun, the coil grows taut and the stranger dives back towards the ground from the sky, her other hand swinging down in prime punching position.

She reunites with her cybernetic hand at an alarming speed, her other fist crunching against the man’s skull upon completion of the descent.

Bonk!” she jovially exclaims, laughing hysterically, “have fun with that headache tomorrow morning you bum!”.

As the man from COOKIES slumps face first into the cold concrete, his associates who were previously watching in disbelief snap back into action and begin sprinting towards me.

Still in awe of what I’ve just witnessed, I don’t object to the strangers metal hand wrapping around my waist as I’m dragged towards the hoverboard on which she currently stands. She catches me out of the air as I’m speedily flung towards her, as if she were plucking a hair.

“Nice job kiddo” remarks the stranger, extending her non-cyborg hand for me to shake.

Still in shock, my arms remain hanging loosely at my sides. She proceeds to reach forwards and grab my hand to shake regardless.

“It’s nice to meet you Dante Aito” she speaks with sincerity, “Let me properly introduce myself. My name is Yui Genji, but my friends call me Slapstick. I’m looking forward to working with you”.

My life has changed so much in such a short span of time.

I’m fleeing on a hoverboard with a random stranger, the entire governing system of paradise will soon be after me with the intention of killing me. Tears fall onto my cheek as the reality of my situation dawns on me.

Yui raises her hand to my cheek, brushing away my tears.

“Don’t be upset kiddo, you did a very brave thing today. Your life isn’t over, in fact I’d say it’s only just beginning”.

She tenderly grasps my chin, tilting my head so her eyes look into mine.

“Let’s go cause a little trouble in paradise”.