Months have passed. I’ve spent time with Mrs. Finnick, planning for this. It started by taking Coyote, against his will, but there was one more person I needed. One more person I needed for a plan that Mrs. Finnick and I had come up with.
Now was the time to implement that plan.
“Cut the lights, Mrs. Finnick.”
I am talking into a headset. The static interference lets me know that Mrs. Finnick hears my message. Even though she is miles away I can see her now curled up in the machine that she calls her husband as they hack the entire city.
The lights in the house go out!
That’s how powerful Mrs. Finnick is. She can hack into anything at any time. I get out of the electric car that she hacked for me as well. I’m dressed in all black. I am a revolutionary now. I’m not who I was before. I wasn’t some immature little boy any longer.
Bronx would be proud.
If only Bronx were around to see me now…
“Good luck,” Mrs. Finnick states, “No pressure but the future of the world depends on you now.”
No pressure. I was ready though. Maybe somewhere between getting a million weapons upgrades, fighting upgrades, hacking upgrades, and military, I realized that I was ready.
I can hear a bit of panic coming from the building. Poor idiots don’t see it. They don’t expect Mr. and Mrs. Finnick to be able to hack into the smart home, unlock the door and turn all the lights off. I slip in the building unimpeded.
“Be careful,” I hear Mrs. Finnick’s voice on the speaker, “IT will have firewalls all over.”
This was all Mrs. Finnick’s idea really. She said that she got it from Bronx Barnes before the incident that tore us all apart. It was a simple plan.
Part 1: Break into the Masterson home.
Stealthily I began to approach the house. I stood by the climbing rose of the porch, listening. I heard voices upstairs. Perhaps the rich Masterson’s had security up there. I listened intently. Voices were upstairs only. I quietly opened the door. The room was empty, save for the voice of a girl, who was singing to some pop song on the radio. I recognized the voice. I crossed to the hall. At the foot of the stairs, I could hear the voice of one of the security members.
“Mrs. Masterson, please stay here while we check out the blackout.”
IT Insisted. Mrs. Finnick was right. There was heavy security here at the Mastersons. It wouldn’t leave its precious humans unguarded.
I start sneaking down when I see that the Masterson girl isn’t listening.
I hear a quick, “I have to pee…”
And then heavy footsteps and that’s when she sees me there in the darkness. A piercing scream breaks out when she sees me.
“I’m sorry Stella, you’re going to have to come with me,” I tell her.
She looks at me confused. A smile even spreads across her face as though not really understanding what’s going on and perhaps thinking all this is a joke.
It wasn’t a joke. Mrs. Finnick’s plan was to kidnap the Masterson kids.
By the look of the people at the top of the stairs, I know that it isn’t going to be so easy.
“Step aside Ms. Masterson,” The security guards state.
“That’s unnecessary, Cassius is going to be my brother in law…” Stella states.
She’s fooled but the security is not. They look at me as though they know something. Maybe it’s the lights cutting off that have them alarmed. They aren’t themselves right now. I count 6 security guards. In total. And by the way, they all turn to me staring with the same blank face lets me know that they aren’t themselves.
IT had control of them.
IT knew I was online.
I hear the sound of Mrs. Finnick’s voice in my head, “Don’t be afraid, Cassius. You were prepared for this moment. The Bronx prepared you for this moment.”
I should be afraid. I wasn’t a fighter. I didn’t think I was. But I had no choice. I guess perhaps Barnes did prepare me for this exact moment. This was a moment where I needed to act. This was a moment where I couldn’t be some poor clueless boy. So much depended on me at this moment and I needed to prove that I was worth it.
Screams broke out. The men rushed forward, shouting orders. Guns fired. I duck behind a cabinet. More shouting. More screaming. There is a piercing one from Stella who has retreated upstairs probably with tears in her eyes. More running. The attack was fierce, efficient and deadly.
They come downstairs and I pull out the rifle that Mrs. Finnick provided me.
Multiple voices are talking to me all at the same time. The moment played out in slow motion, the rifle followed the arc as body swung in, the sudden movement out the corner of my eye as I swung my body out of hiding.
I never meant to shoot, but my brain skipped a beat, my trigger finger squeezed in surprise and multiple shots fired when it shouldn’t have. It was as though my body knew what to do.
The sound was swallowed by the soft furnishings, carpets, and low ceiling, and came out as a deadened thump. It was the loudest eardrum-rattling noise I had ever heard. I couldn’t hear very much after that.
I couldn’t hear the sounds of screaming as my bullets pierced my enemies with almost exact precision.
I couldn’t hear the bodies hit the ground. I was almost deaf.
And that’s when I go upstairs and see Stella.
Tears in her eyes she looks up at me, “What are you doing Cassius? Why are you doing this?”
I look over at her, “Because you’re special…”
I’m back at the warehouse before I Know it. The Masterson brother and sister are both in my custody. It was a lot easier, even with the violence, to get Stella than it was with Coyote. Coyote didn’t struggle. He didn’t have any guards watching him but emotionally it hurt him more.
Even now I can see him, tied up a chair next to his sister completely confused about what’s going on.
“I know you both are upset,” I start off, “But what if I told you everything you knew was a lie. What if I told you humanity went extinct some years back. What if I told you there is a supercomputer who rules the world. What if I told you it designs humans in labs. You are two of the last humans left. You are our last tie to true humanity.”
There is a silence at the moment and then a laugh from Stella.
“You’re fucking crazy,” she states, “Coyote your fucking boyfriend is crazy.”
Stella has been bitching since I kidnapped her. I guess it’s not comfortable to get kidnapped in LaPerla underwear. She seems irritated and angry, but Coyote just seems…I don’t know. Sad. He hasn’t really spoken. He’s looking at me now though and he seems to get it.
“I don’t think he’s lying Stella,” Coyote states.
Coyote pauses for a moment, “I knew something was weird when Cassius came back. Something was off. The way that Dad has all these people around him. The way that things have always been so easy for us. It was almost like someone was watching out for us….”
“Like god?” his sister asks.
I give him a look. A defining look, “IT is NOT god.”
“You sound a bit like Bronx,” a voice states.
I turn at that moment and see Mrs. Finnick watching me from the next room. I walk over to her making sure I get away from the Masterson kids. When we get in the room we see the shell of Mr. Finnick which in all honesty looks even now like nothing more than a machine that the old lady climbs into when she needs to manipulate the environment around her.
Mrs. Finnick smiles, “He knew you would be the one to do this.”
“I remember so much now,” I state, “I remember almost everything, except for what happened that day…”
The memories had begun pouring in. I met a boy. I met this perfect boy. And he believed in me. He thought I was special. He thought I was special enough to tell a secret to. One of the biggest secrets ever. And no matter how many times I questioned him or my reason for being around him, I knew now that this was where I belonged.
I just wish I knew my last words to him.
“You’re upset,” she reads me.
The old woman is blind but half the time when she looks at me I think she can see right through me. It’s funny how she seems so human. It may have been because she has been online for so long.
“I betrayed him.”
She sighs, “They all did. Sooner or later fighting the impossible fight becomes hard to do. It’s easier just to just ignore it. You know what they say; Ignorance is bliss. But you didn’t betray him. Because you’re here now.”
I wish I could believe the truth.
“I killed him.”
“When Mr. Finnick lost his body I thought he was gone,” she explains, “But when you are online you are connected…to everything. The control that IT has is taken away. The body dies but the body is nothing more than a machine. There’s something still here. Something here with Mr. Finnick. Something here with Bronx. Something that made you come back.”
“The soul,” I state.
She thinks on it, “Goddamn it. Goddamit, I think you’re right. I’ve thought for so long what that thing was that kept us fighting this war. And I never got it. But you have it. The soul.”
It’s cute to see Mrs. Finnick energized by this. It’s funny to see that she wants to figure it out. The soul. That’s what I had.
“That’s the greatest gift that Bronx gave me.”
“He cared about you.”
Hearing her say that to me is painful for the most. When I started Bronx had a team. Now all the team was gone. I was the only one left.
“I loved him. For so long I was scared that I couldn’t because so many others did. And I never told him. I never got the chance to show him how I felt,” I explained.
It’s hard to talk to Mrs. Finnick. Even though her husband was a machine, she had found a way to stay attached to him. There were nights I’d hear her up late talking and telling stories. She’d laugh. If he did have a way to communicate back with her then it was something that really wasn’t clear. I never asked. A part of me just assumed she imagined it. I don’t know. I was too chickenshit to ask so I’d probably never find out. Regardless of if the communication was real between Mr. and Mrs. Finnick, I knew that there was love. An undeniable love.
A human love.
Mr. and Mrs. Finnick had a love that was from the soul.
Something pass the body. Something pass the machine.
“Even if you never spoke to him again,” Mrs. Finnick states, “Or even if you did kill him, it wasn’t your fault. None of this was your fault. IT killed Bronx. Not you. IT did. IT killed your father too.”
I think about my father. I think about how he had given Bronx permission to date me. The permission that happened way too late. What if I had trusted Bronx back then? What if I hadn’t listened to the others who were trying to find a way to cop out of the revolution? He would still be alive now perhaps.
Perhaps they both would be…
“My father died to give us this information. The revolution continues through me,” I state.
That’s when we hear the alarm. The timing is poetic.
“3:33 pm. That time almost meant something,” Mrs. Finnick states checking her watch.
Yes, it did.
It felt as though IT realized that there was a challenge and IT heard that challenge loud and clear. It’s Mrs. Finnick who set the alarm around the warehouse when anyone came within a certain timeframe. I’m nervous but I feel a calm come over me at this point.
“Do you feel IT?” she asks.
“Can we be sure that this is IT?” I ask, confused, “I mean it’s possible IT sent agents. Programmers maybe…”
“No,” she states, “This was Bronx’s plan. This is why your father called the meeting. The Mastersons are too important for IT to send agents. IT is here.”
I feel it as we return back to the main room with the Mastersons. I walk in the room and see Coyote and Stella sitting there. They are staring down the dark hallway towards the entrance. I almost see Stella seeming beyond scared.
Coyote shakes his head, “Something is down the hallway, Cassius. Something is trying to get in here.”
“I know. It’s come to kill me,” I state.
IT has come for the Mastersons and I was the only thing standing in its way. So it had come for me. It had come to kill me.
“Let me go, I can help you…”
I go to Coyote and start loosening his ropes.
“What are you doing?” Mrs. Finnick states.
“Mrs. Finnick, open the back doors. We are going to let Coyote and Stella go. We don’t need them anymore. IT is here now.”
“You trust them to let them go?”
“They are human. They can’t be controlled by IT.”
I reach for the ropes and let them go. Stella immediately tries to grab her brother to leave. I can hear her voice almost hesitating.
“Come on Coyote…”
“I’m not leaving,” he states.
“Coyote,” Stella states, “This isn’t our fight.”
“She’s right,” I tell Coyote, “You should leave. This is a fight for freedom for my people. People who are enslaved by some powerful Artificial Intelligence. You have a lot of life to live Coyote. You should go live it.”
Coyote gives me a look. A longing look. A look that I don’t think I can return. Then he grabs me up and he kisses me. He kisses me in a way that makes me know for sure that however he’s ever felt about me was real. This wasn’t some programmed emotion. This was an emotion that came from a pure place. And it warms me to feel it even if I knew being with Coyote wasn’t my calling.
And then he asks, “Will I see you again?
“No…” I tell him.
He seems to understand even without me giving a reason. Maybe he knows that there is a very high chance that the person who was going to kill me was walking into the room so it’d be impossible to see me again. Or maybe he knew that I was never truly in love with him. Not in the way that I professed to be. There was always something else. Even if Bronx wasn’t alive, I’d followed Bronx into a war.
I’d willingly follow Bronx into death as well.
“They’re gone,” Mrs. Finnick states.
“Let IT in.”
“Are you ready?” she asks
She hands me a suitcase. I drop it on the floor in the warehouse and it falls with a big thud. The echo as I pull out my M1911 pistol and M500 shotgun. I place them on the floor with me. I have another gun that I’m holding. My M249 squad automatic gun.
I lay the bipod on the ground. It’s used to steady my gun. I lay down flat on my stomach with some old boxes covering me up. Luckily enough for me, Mrs. Finnick was quite the collector. There was a lot of machine parts in here to hide underneath.
It wouldn’t see me until it was too late.
“Yeah I’m ready,” I state, “I just wonder what IT looks like…”
“We’ll see in a minute,” she states, “I’m locking myself in the room, but I’ll support you as much as I can using Mr. Finnick. I can’t do much, I’m a hacker and not a fighter, but I’ll do what I can—-“
“I get it, Mrs. Finnick,” I state, “You’ve been amazing.”
Mrs. Finnick smiles at me, “You’re special, Cassius. You know that?”
I smile, “I’ve heard that before.”
I’m laying down flat when Mrs. Finnick leaves. I know when the lights go off and there is a loud snap that Mrs. Finnick has opened the front door. I look around the halls. Mrs. Finnick’s warehouse was nothing more than a square wasteland. I’m nervous. Now was the time. The area was enclosed by a high vaulted wall topped with broken glass and razor wire. The two metal gates hung open, and from the other side of the warehouse, I could see a shed with a security window from the room where Mrs. Finnick was. Beyond it the tottering piles of dead and broken cars. Everything of any value had been stripped away and only the rusting carcasses remained, heaped one on top of the other, waiting to be fed into the crusher.
That’s when I hear the footsteps.
I’m nervous. Beyond nervous. Sweat dripping from places I never thought existed when It walks into the room. It’s wearing a suit. The walk is different though. Unusual.
“It’s coming,” I hear Mrs. Finnick states, “IT believes the revolution is over. IT has dropped its guard. We won’t have another opportunity at this. When you see IT. Kill IT. Immediately.”
I expected a full-blown robot to walk in. Something like the body of Mr. Finnick but frightening. No soul what-so-ever. I didn’t think something that could be so frightening and controlling could have any human characteristics.
I was wrong.
What I see is even more frightening than anything I can remember?
“Bronx?” I ask.
I’m not imagining it. The other figure in the room was him. Bronx Barnes. He was alive and he was walking towards me, alone. No one was with him. No one else was in the room.
I hear Mrs. Finnick’s voice, “SHOOT!”
I don’t shoot. My heart is racing. I’m hesitating. I can’t shoot.
I get up from my cover. I know it’s stupid. It’s probably the dumbest thing that I’ve ever done, but I can’t control it. But I know that it’s not some supercomputer controlling my actions. It’s not IT. The thing that is controlling my body and making me forget the automatic weapons I had on the floor was actually something else.
It was my heart…
“That is not Bronx!” Mrs. Finnick is saying in my earpiece, “SHOOT Cassius. KILL IT! KILL IT NOW!”
I’m so weak that I don’t even think I am able to really make out what she’s saying even when I get in hands-reach of the love of my life. He’s looking at me, his squinted eyes lazily adjusting to me and then smiling as though happy to see me but somewhat surprised.
“Hello, Cassius,” the voice states.
The voice warms my heart as it had done before. My heart is beating a million miles a minute as it had done before. As I approach I begin to see that same smile. That cocky smile. And that’s when I get close and I can smell him. Yes. God, I remember that smell.
Tears are welling up in my eyes. Real emotion is pouring out. Real emotion, unlike anything that I’ve ever felt.
“IT re-purposed Bronx. The same way that IT did to your father—-only IT has taken the body personally. It makes sense. IT always felt like Bronx was the one thing that it couldn’t control. So now Bronx is IT!”
“I don’t care…” I state.
“G’ dam it, Cassius!” Mrs. Finnick is saying.
I take the earpiece out and throw it across the floor. I don’t care about what she’s saying. Right now I care about seeing Bronx again. I turn back to him.
“You can touch me,” Bronx states, “It’s OK. I want you to.”
Maybe I just looked like I wanted to so badly. I press my hands up against him. His skin. He does the same to my face. For a moment we are just staring into each other’s souls and that’s when I do it. I lean in and I kiss him. My tongue swerves into his mouth and he kisses back grabbing me by my waist and pulling me close in the most passionate way ever.
“Bronx you’re alive…”
That’s when something happens. Out of the junk, there is heavy movement. That’s when I see all these parts coming together. The metal parts merge together and form a robot. A robot with fucking deadly pincers. The pincers had taken their inspiration from some frightening torture device! The bottom part was the larger piece, smoothly curved at the base, pretty even, but on the upper surface were ridges sharper than any creatures claw.
So much for Mrs. Finnick saying she wasn’t a fighter.
“Mrs. Finnick, no!” I scream out.
It’s too late. The robot that Mrs. Finnick is controlling comes hurtling towards us, raging with pincers. That’s when I feel something move me. Bronx pushes me out of the way and I land on a heap in the pile. I turn just in time to see Bronx with inhuman strength holding back the attack from the large robot. Bronx with one single move rips the robot’s arm off and attacks again in such a way to disengage the robot in a single jump.
The robot crashes to a million pieces.
And that’s when I see Mrs. Finnick running out of the room. Guns blazing, shooting violently in an attempt to kill Bronx. The gunshots hit nothing but scrap metal that Bronx ducks behind. She is so enraged and desperate that she doesn’t see Bronx duck behind cover when she needs to reload her bullets.
Bronx grabs her by the neck and I see the old lady lifted into the air by her neck.
“Time for you to join your husband in nothingness, old woman,” Bronx says, “You have been quite the thorn in my side.”
Hearing Bronx say those words shocks me.
“It’s true, then?” I ask, “You’re really not Bronx…”
An imposter. IT was an imposter.
“I found him. He was left almost dead from your attack. You had choked him near to death. Do you remember? You did it because I commanded you to. You would have been a good slave, Cassius. I’m not sure how it is you got back online. It doesn’t matter. I should thank you. It was you who left behind the perfect body for me to take.”
“It’s Bronx’s body, not yours.”
“This body is ideal,” IT says at that moment, “Resilient, powerful. All I had to do is add my soul into it.”
“You don’t have a soul.”
“I do. It’s called my soul chip. It is buried in my chest. Now I have the perfect body. Your revolution has failed, Cassius Rice.”
“No, it hasn’t…” I state.
IT looks confused as I walk over.
“Release her,” I state.
“Have you lost your mind?’ IT asks, “Have you—–“
That’s when IT releases her. IT does everything that I have asked. IT releases Mrs. Finnick. Mrs. Finnick falls to the ground massaging her neck and seeming overwhelmed and almost confused on what is happening in this situation.
“Wait?” she asks, “Why did IT stop?”
“I…I didn’t want to stop,” IT states.
I smile, “Sit.”
“No,” IT states.
I point at a chair, “SIT!”
Within a matter of seconds, IT has no choice but to sit in the chair like I asked it to. That’s when I look over at Mrs. Finnick.
“What’s happening?” Mrs. Finnick states.
“What caused the glitch?” Mrs. Finnick states, ‘Did someone come online?”
“No,” I state, “It was love. That was what caused the glitch. I realized the truth about IT. Love conquers IT, every single time.”’
“I took his body,” IT states, “I…I….”
All of a sudden he stops talking. All of a sudden a familiar smile spreads across Bronx’s face. And I know it’s him. It’s my Bronx in there.
“Bronx, your plan worked,” I state.
“I knew it would,” he responded, “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”
“What plan?” Mrs. Finnick asks just as confused as ever.
“After Bronx realized that I could stop resist IT’s programming, he figured he could do it himself. So he came up with a plan. We pretend to kill him. We reset my memory programming just enough so IT wouldn’t even realize that I was still online. And we knew IT couldn’t resist. We knew IT would want to become Bronx because Bronx had one thing that IT would never have.”
“What’s that?” Mrs. Finnick asks.
“Bronx is loved,” I state.
Bronx looks over at me. Now that my memories were back I can remember the last day I spent with Bronx. A day where we made love over and over. It was as though he knew that he was sacrificing his own body to trap IT. He knew that it was a risk.
“Come here,” he states.
That’s when I lean over and he kisses me. It’s not a normal kiss. It’s the kind of kiss where he tells me without saying it that he couldn’t do this without me. He’s telling me without saying it that he loved me.
Then we hear an alarm.
“Shit….we may have company,” Mrs. Finnick states.“IT might have sent out a silent alarm. Mr. Finnick is saying that every human within 1000 miles has been turned into a firewall. In a matter of minutes, millions will be trying to kill us.”
Shit. I guess we knew that IT wouldn’t go down without a fight.
“I only wish I had more time with you,” he states.
“What are you saying?” I ask, “You have control over your body now…”
“I feel IT struggling to gain control back,” Bronx states, “The fact that I was able to fight it so long is just because of how I feel about you. But we have to destroy it. We have to destroy it now.”
“How?” I ask.
“Mrs. Finnick, do you have any idea where the Soul Chip would be relocated?” he asks.
It made sense. IT wanted its soul chip closest to the thing it never had. I shake my head, “Heart surgery would take forever. Do I have the programming to be a heart surgeon.”
“No…” Mrs. Finnick states, “I would have downloaded that if you two gave me the full plan…”
“We didn’t know we would have to cut the soul chip out,” Bronx states, “We don’t have time for surgery. We are going to have to shoot me in the heart.”
This is a crazy.
I don’t expect to break down crying. The tears pour out of my heart like faucet water. I can see Mrs. Finnick panicking as she looks around. It makes me think Mr. Finnick does really communicate with her and right now he seems to be screaming about the upcoming threat.
All of a sudden I’m thinking there was another way. We could run. We could hide. Bronx had enough love in him for me that he could fight IT long enough to have a proper surgery. One where we can take IT out without killing him.
I know Bronx though.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Bronx states, “You’re thinking that there is a way to avoid what is going to happen. There isn’t. I can’t risk IT getting away. I want to though. I want to take you away. I want to go on a proper date with you. I want to argue with you about stupid things. I want to make love to you. I want to travel with you. I want to one day marry you. I want to do all those things that people do. But I don’t have the freedom to do that. My destiny is the revolution. And if I don’t do what I have to do now the Revolution will be over. And no one will ever be able to love free…”
“I can’t…” I state, “I can’t shoot you in the heart. Maybe Mrs. Finnick can do it. Stop looking at me that way…”
“It has to be you,” he states, “You are the only one who can shoot me in the heart because you are the one who owns my heart. I was only able to defeat IT from the inside because IT believed I would be its slave, but I was already a slave for someone else. I was already a slave for you.”
I sigh. My hands are shaking. There is rumbling outside.
“THEY ARE COMING!” Mrs. Finnick screams, her loud thundering through the empty garage.
I stand with the gun.
Tears running down my face making it impossible for me to talk. They go in my mouth and I’m trying to tell him something, anything to make this a little less frightening for him. It doesn’t matter to Bronx though. He’s not frightened. He’s excited.
This was his destiny. This was HIS story. Not mine.
“You’re special,” he states, “You’re so special…”
And those are his last words.
I’m walking in the park. The world is different now. When I smelled the trees it felt as though I could really SMELL them. There was no filter. There was no IT. We lived how we wanted. We did what we wanted.
“So I just got news,” Coyote states.
He’d come to meet me in the park. He smiles over at me.
“What is it?”
“You got the job,” he states.
I smile at that moment and run over to hug Coyote. There was a job at the Masterson Research facility. People were trying to remove the parts from cyborgs around the world so that natural parts can take their place. What that meant is that we were trying to bring back REAL humans. After years of research, it was possible that could happen again but they’d need someone running the program.
“They chose me?”
“Not everyone knows what you did, but I do,” Coyote explains, “Who better than you to run things? You’ve always been the best part of humanity.”
“I’m not even human.”
“Not yet, but after we implement this program maybe one day you’ll be,” he states, “Regardless…I don’t know anyone who is realer than you are. The emotions you feel are real. And you know what else? The emotions I feel for you are real…”
There is a shadow over Coyote at that moment. I think he feels it because he takes a step back.
“My boyfriend didn’t like that,” I state.
Coyote gives me a look, “You hear that thing?”
I look up at what he’s looking at. It’s a robot. A shell of a thing that resembled more the metal clumps of Mr. Finnick’s old robotic body than a human person. There was nothing human about it on the outside but it didn’t matter.
“He’s the love of my life,” I state smiling, “I’ll see you around Coyote…”
That’s when I reach up my hand. I grab his. A robot. But somehow Mrs. Finnick had found a way to save Bronx’s soul, just like she had saved Mr. Finnick’s soul. The old lady wasn’t crazy. I could HEAR Bronx.
Bronx Barnes was in there somewhere…in this clunky machine that followed me around like a loyal dog wherever I went.
And it looks at me and says:
“It’s 3:33, babe. What do you want to do? It’s our special time…”
I smile. That’s the thing about being free. Truly free.
“We can do whatever we want now.”