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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

A high-pitched whistle shrills through the air.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

“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?” Bookmark here

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

“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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.” Bookmark here

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

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

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

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. Bookmark here


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? Bookmark here

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

What the hell am I supposed to do? Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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

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

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. Bookmark here

“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?” Bookmark here

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

“I-I wouldn’t want that sir.” Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

“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. Bookmark here

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

“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.”Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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

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. Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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

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

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.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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

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

“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”.Bookmark here

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

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. Bookmark here

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

“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”.Bookmark here

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

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

You can resume reading from this paragraph.