Strings of Retaliation – 15a – Wall

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While I expected the highly classified nature of Operation Chimera to limit the red tape, I didn’t think Gabriel’s bosses would hurry to comply to our engagement. Yet, Gabriel escorted Vexx to my house on Sunday, which meant that sooner or later, the FBI would point back to this event and try to use it to manipulate my sense of obligations.
The politics would never end.
The boys arrived through the sewer system, pushing a trolley with all of Vexx’s mechanical pets. It was more subtle than using the front door. As soon as everything was in, Gabriel took his leave. The door had barely swished shut when Vexx launched himself into a long string of complaints. The fast-paced litany of ‘after all we did’, ‘traitor’, and obscene vocabulary was one cheesy keyboard sample short of a rap song.
I propped myself on the corner of a counter and waited for a couple of minutes. “Funny how after a few days in isolation, you choose monologue over conversation.”
Vexx stopped mid-insult, walked up to my counter and hugged me. “I’d rather not go through this again.”
For lack of a better thing to do, I patted his back a couple of times. Naomi and my dad were the only two people who ever hugged me. They never wedged themselves between my legs while I sat on a counter to do so.
“I really thought we fed up the Feds. Not that they didn’t deserve it.” Vexx finally released me. “We’re leaving this disastrophe, right?”
“No.”
Vexx’s face melted, each of its line drooping. I had seen that look on him once, minutes before he walked into MerriTech’s research lab to dent their system and fake his death. The nanobots hadn’t let it bug me back then.
“We’re breaking Saskia out.”
“Oh! Okay.” His lips levelled themselves. “And then we’re gone.”
I shook my head.
“You’ve got to be kidding?”
I shook my head again. Vexx spun on his heel and headed for the stairs. His reaction shocked me still.
You should move, I thought but my body only seemed to obey once Vexx left my line of sight. I caught up with him in his room. He was taking handfuls of clothes from his drawers and dumping them on his bed.
“Vexx, I know this is scary—”
“—I may not plan to let the FBI imprison me again, but that’s not why I’m leaving.”
I stepped between him and the dresser. “Why?”
Vexx changed course and started pulling clothes off of his wardrobe’s hangers. “It’s one thing to risk my life helping you,” he said, throwing his shirts on his bed. “It’s another to risk it to help you when you won’t help yourself.”
“Vexx —”I should be angry. Why am I not angry? “— you can’t leave now. You’re overreacting.”
“Overreacting?” He yelled. “I just spent a week in prison because I tried to get you to be yourself. You want to throw a tantrum, mess up a few of their toys and then get back in bed with the FBI?”
“I’m not—”
“— That’s your new pattern. I didn’t free you from the nanobots to watch you walk into a slaughterhouse.”
“Will you listen?”
My shout broke midway through. No anger. Panic. It echoed straight from me to Vexx. He stopped emptying mid-clothe-toss and sat on a free corner of the bed.
“I had to try to stop tech the legal way.” I hadn’t thought it, but somehow it had been somewhere in the back of my mind. Rejecting the criminal mindset I had been programmed with had seemed so natural.
“Had to?” Vexx cocked an eyebrow.
I smiled. “I’m bringing the old ways back.”
“Oh!”
“Yeah.”
Vexx’s mechanical cat walked into the room, jumped on the bed and patted the heap of clothes until it found a satisfying spot. Then, it started purring.
“Maybe I did overreact.” Vexx grabbed a t-shirt and folded it. “So what did it?”
“Someone tried to manipulate me. To use my leftover programming against me.”
Vexx chuckled. “That would do it.”
I felt awkward, standing there while he folded his clothes so I pulled a pair of pants from under a pile of underwear. That was the only piece on hand that wouldn’t add to the awkwardness.
“There’s at least one tech-corrupted agent tied to Operation Chimera.”
“Statistically viable assessment.” A clang came from downstairs. Vexx winced. “The bat’s echolocation isn’t a hundred percent.”
I shrugged. “The mechanical menagerie is the least of my worries.”
“Oh! MechMen! I like it!” Vexx put his folded t-shirt in the drawer, turning his back on me. “You could have run.”
“I planned for it. Given no other choice, I would have. But what would that solve?”
“Solve, I don’t know. But you could save yourself.”
“And who’s that exactly?”
Vexx spun around, his eyebrows scrunched in a bunch.
“Seriously! Who am I without this fight? The rest of my life went up in a inferno of lies.”
“You could start over.”
“Knowing what I know? Remote-controlled human killing machine, Vexx!” I was shouting again. But the panic was gone. A few days ago, I had wished for an argument like this.
Vexx picked up the pants from my hands. “Or you could regroup and come back to the fight.”
“The position I’m in right now is a hell of a strategic one.” I picked the mechanical pet and put it on the floor so I could access other non-awkward clothes.
“Back against the wall is a ‘strategic position’?”
I glared at Vexx.
“Sorry. I know what you meant.”
“And you should really read The Art of War.”
Sun Tzu had very specifically recommended not to back one’s enemies against a wall. For if they had nothing to lose, they were twice as hard to take down.

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About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

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