Dreams of Sun
She waited for the signal, drifting in the twilight sky, unsupported and invisible. Next to her a vertical beam of light pulsed from the apex of the black pyramid and dissolved in the darkening skies. The city was a sprawling, shimmering ocean beneath her feet. She looked towards the desert and the distant mountains. She waited, she watched, slowly circling, taking in the sunset, and savouring the warm breeze. Beneath her feet, points of light pulsed, flashing with epileptic intensity. The shining metropolis came alive at night, the constant rumbling noise of the city was punctuated by sirens, hooting vehicles, and screaming humans. She listened, but could not distinguish whether the screams were from pain or pleasure.
“It’s time,” said a voice in her ear. She sighed, turned, and floated across the city.
She flew towards the purpling mountains, upright and with her hands clasped loosely together as if in prayer. Fingertips touching, manipulating the suit. The desert passed smoothly below as the air grew colder. She reached the tree tops and let them caress the soles of her feet before gradually gaining altitude. The hotel was built on top of a towering carbonate cliff face, shaped like a massive horseshoe. Ten stories high and a kilometre wide, the two ends jutted out over the canyon as if it had been thrown from above and landed on its side, perfectly balanced on the edge. Approaching from below, she floated up the cliff face in between the imposing arches, until reaching a point in the air above the gleaming structure. She stopped and surveyed the scene.
There was a solitary nighthawk swooping in towards her, chasing insects in the swirling updraft. It flew closer and she wondered if the hawk would detect her presence in the suit. Just as she was about to take evasive action, the hawk sensed her, screeched, batted its wings in confusion and tore off down towards the cliff face. She smiled; she was invisible to the human eye, but not the keen-eyed hawk.
“Ava, the security are changing shift,” said the earbud.
She stroked a small pressure pad in her palm, and floated over the bulbous middle section of the horseshoe down to ground level, landing gracefully next to a service entrance the security guards had momentarily vacated. She could have walked through the main entrance of the hotel. But although she was invisible, she was still a solid physical being and there were plenty of people in the main foyer to bump into. She followed the guards through their checkpoint and slipped through an open door into a long wide corridor.
The walkway curved with the shape of the building. Its plush interior was adorned with depictions of desert scenes and mountain landscapes. Pots of cacti and succulents had been placed strategically along the path. There was plenty of room for her to avoid people. The lower levels of the hotel were all casino but at both ends of the horseshoe were the exclusive VIP areas with the best views. Ava headed for a private room, reserved for the elite high rollers, away from the drunks and desperate.
She approached the end of the corridor, where a burly security guard stood next to a door: Blue Diamond Room announced the plaque. The door was closed. The security guard was solid muscle, hired to stand around looking staunch, and prevent drunk patrons from annoying the people inside. She padded up to the guard. He stood statue still, a single vein pulsing in his neck showing he was alive. She noticed his eyes flickering behind the shaded AR glasses. Whatever alternate reality the guard was running must have been very captivating. Ava wondered whether she should reach into his mind to distract him. Easily done but there was no need.
She walked back down the corridor to the giant cactus in a clay pot. Bracing one leg on the rim of the pot, she glanced at the guard and kicked it over. The guard immediately snapped out of his virtual world and strode over to the mess on the floor, he looked around in confusion as she went to the door and held her palm to the keypad. Good luck getting the thorny devil back in the pot, she thought as the light clicked green and she stepped inside.
She walked silently through the antechamber, past the reception and into the Blue Diamond room. Five people were reclining around a low table covered with bottles, food items and white lines of what she assumed was cocaine.
“Ignore the press, Clifford. they will do anything for a story, spying on people is their business. I’m sure you can bribe the editors to change the narrative if it gets too uncomfortable,” said Xander Cruz.
“I already pay them more than enough. I can’t have junior reporters trying to make a name for themselves by sniffing around in my private affairs.” Baron Clifford of Chudleigh looked down his nose and peeled a grape with long thin fingers as he spoke.
“Well, you should be more discreet. Your scandalous behaviour sells newspapers.” Xander smiled, showing perfect white teeth.
“You should be glad it’s just your deviant appetites they are interested in and not your drug companies, we don’t want any investigations there.” Liu Wei guzzled a flute of champagne and spooned foie gras onto a cracker. “You are far too lenient in your country, if any journalist runs a story I don’t like, they disappear.”
“I would love to be able to do that. There are several reporters I would like to disappear, slowly and painfully as possible, and we have tried. But unfortunately, where I come from, if a journalist disappears, that’s an even bigger story,” said Clifford.
“Then let them be distracted by your carnal cravings, as long as they don’t go digging deeper into your pharmaceuticals. That would be bad for all of us,” said Wei.
The invisible woman padded silently around the table and studied each one of them. She knew these people; she had researched them. They’d been easy to find, and she didn’t have to dig deep to discover their stories. They were rich, corrupt, devious, maybe even evil. Maybe it was an addiction, or an affliction. Maybe they needed help. Well, she was going to help them.
“The people don’t care about privacy anymore,” said Wei. “We have facial recognition cameras on the streets, in the shops, and in their homes. We rate everyone on their behaviour whether it’s driving, shopping, or fucking. The rating affects their credit, their career and social life. They’re cattle, they know they are being watched and they don’t care, they are always trying to achieve a higher rating. It’s the new normal and if anyone criticizes the surveillance state, like I said, they disappear.”
“We are a little more subtle. We have not sunk so low as selling live streams of people fornicating on pay-per-view. We are only interested in the data,” said Clifford.
“Yep, the data is where the money is,” said Xander as he bent down towards a line of white powder on the table. “Data gives every detail; life is nothing more than a collection of big data.” The tech tycoon looked different from the last image she had seen. His cheekbones were higher, and his eyes were wider. Xander had a severe body dysmorphic disorder that constantly drove him back to the plastic surgeon, trying to achieve a perfection he could never seem to attain. Now his face barely moved at all. Ava was disgusted and slightly saddened by his obsessive vanity.
“But there is a ton of money to be made from my pay-per-view,” said Wei. “People are so desensitized to surveillance they don’t care who’s watching.”
“We all know your spy-cams make money, Wei, but the market of perverts and voyeurs is limited. Selling data is way more profitable and less problematic. Governments and marketing agencies are always willing to pay for details about the people.” Adira Amar cradled a flute of champagne. Adira owned a global online marketplace, making her one of the richest people in the world. The brutally oppressive treatment of her workers and the systematic kneecapping of her opposition was well known. Ava studied her, wondering how so much greed could be contained in one small woman.
“We have hundreds of smart devices for harvesting personal data. Toys for the children, toasters, toothbrushes, refrigerators, even sex toys will get you into their homes and into their heads without them knowing. People happily buy our products, and we harvest masses of quality data.” Adira took a sip of champagne, looked at the flute in disgust and tossed it into the pool.
Ava moved around the group. After researching all of them she felt like she knew them personally. They were in the top one percent of wealthiest people in the world, and worked hard to keep the inequality differential growing. Being this close, she could visit their minds without them knowing. She could smell their thoughts like a bubbling sulphuric swamp. She didn’t want to understand them, she felt dirty and corrupted just by being in the same room as these people. Her right hand went to the bomb strapped to her belt, but she decided not to use it yet. She wanted to eavesdrop a little longer.
“This is nothing new Adira, your traditional methods still work but people are evolving, the future is here already.” Xander stroked the matte black augmentation plugged into his head behind his ear. “My new enhancement aug can link with any individual or network with the same hardware and convey to my primary visual cortex. It can transmit and receive gigabytes in seconds. Everyone will be using them soon for communication, shopping, business, and the gaming potential is unlimited. Once everyone is auged up, we will not only know exactly what they are doing, we will know what they are thinking.”
“Won’t people get angry when they find out you are recording their thoughts?” Clifford spat a grape pip to the floor.
Xander flapped his hand at him dismissively. “They get angry about losing something they never had. But they never disconnect. People say they value their privacy, but our statistics say otherwise. Their devices are connected all the time, they constantly crave attention and approval. There is no such thing as privacy anymore, it’s a myth.”
Ava crouched next to the pool the Blue Diamond room was named after. The hotel extended out over the cliff face and built into the outlying extremity of the giant horseshoe was a glass bottom pool. The transparent walls of the pool curved up above the water line affording panoramic views out over the valley and straight down through the water to the desert floor below. Adira’s champagne flute stood upright on the bottom. She studied the kaleidoscopic lights of Las Vegas, a distant glowing mirage shifting in the warm evening air. The water was an azure blue and there were real diamonds in the pool, caressed by the circulating water around the bottom. The tiny gemstones were picked out by the last rays of the setting Sun creating laser like shafts of blue light in the water. Ava looked out at the sunset. It was beautiful, but the Sun always made her feel anxious. She preferred the night.
“Anyway, how is the next virus coming along Wei?” asked Clifford.
“It’s incubating nicely in some pigs at the moment. Soon it will mutate into a deadlier version of the swine flu. We are thinking of introducing it from Europe this time. Plenty of factory farms and a growing population of wild pigs.”
“Well, let me know when it’s ready and we can start rolling out the vaccines again. The last pandemic went well.”
“Yeah, the Lassa fever scared the shit out of people, not a pleasant way to die.”
Ava’s invisible face twisted with shock and disgust; she understood Clifford’s drug company had made billions in profit selling vaccines for the last pandemic but actually manufacturing a deadly virus? She had heard rumours but had dismissed them as conspiracy theories. Something caustic writhed in her stomach. These people made her sick.
“We are thinking of adding some addictive properties this time,” said Clifford. “We want them to come back for more.”
Ava watched the last member of the group sitting on his own in silence. Johnathon Winter was a political adviser, although he was not well known, he had immense political influence. She knew he promoted extreme right-wing ideologies. She didn’t know whether he did this only for profit, or he actually believed the vile rhetoric. He was the one she wanted most. Winter rose from his seat and stood gazing through the water at the view below. “There is an election to win soon, and it would be in all your best interests if my employer remains in power for another term, so how are we going to achieve this?”
“Same as we always do.” Adira inspected another bottle of champagne. “You know our methods, digging dirt on opponents, bombarding voters with propaganda and fixing the votes.”
“You’re in a unique position this time,” said Xander. “Despite the fact you and that idiot you work for made a complete shambles of your last term, you won’t lose. Many of your opposition’s supporters are dead, all those blue-collar workers who got infected. But those with enough money avoided the fever easily enough, and the fear it created will always be good for conservative politics.”
“Disasters are an important part of our capitalist society, whether they are military, environmental or financial, you can never let a good disaster go to waste.” Wei smiled showing his gold capped teeth.
“We are one step ahead of every disaster. We have the cure ready before the disease is unleashed. We can create the conditions that we benefit most from. This is the most efficient business model.” said Clifford.
“Must be nice to have all the governments of the world indebted and relying on you for a cure,” said Xander distractedly as he spilled some cocaine on the floor. “It’s true the pandemic was great for business, everyone at home in lockdown with nothing better to do but use our apps to communicate and buy shit online. Not only more profit but a treasure trove of personal data.”
Winter took a flute of champagne and joined them at the table. “Since the pandemic, your tech companies have a much-improved image, your involvement in tracking the fever produced tangible results. More importantly, your status as faithful government partners in the biggest health crisis the modern world has ever seen contributed to the acceptance and normalization of your existence.” Winter paused to sneer disdainfully at Xander scooping up the cocaine. “During the pandemic, the conditions were perfect for some shock doctrine. Easy to suspend democratic freedoms, to tell the people extraordinary politics were needed to win this war and take more money from the taxpayers. The immediate aftermath was the perfect time to ram some pro-corporate measures down their throats. That’s what my government has done for you, you are in the best position you have ever been, and it’s time to show some appreciation.”
“Yes, we will win the election for you,” sighed Xander as he built a small mound of cocaine on the table and went to work with a card. “Easy enough to turn uninformed voters into misinformed ones, that’s how democracy works these days. Clifford I’m still annoyed you didn’t put nano chips in the vaccine. Perfect way to track the population.”
“Maybe we did,” said Clifford with a raised eyebrow.
Winter ignored them. “There are concerns, we all agree the last pandemic was good for business. But it took my organisation by surprise, and we don’t like surprises.” He looked indignantly at Wei.
Wei closed his eyes for a moment before shrugging. “Must have slipped my mind. Anyway, it’s not my fault you weren’t prepared. You have learned a good lesson.”
Winter began to retort but managed to regain his poise. “Regardless,” he downed his champagne. “The voters are confused; polls indicate our leader is not as popular as we would like. We need to present him in a more favourable light. The lockdown went on far too long, people got used to fresh air, breathing air without exhaust fumes, people got ideas of a different kind of world. We can’t have that. Our marginal voters are swinging, and so we need your influence to guarantee an election victory. For our mutual benefit. Things don’t necessarily need to be true, as long as they’re believed.”
“Your leader is an imbecile, and his supporters are morons. If he could just keep his mouth shut his popularity will grow,” said Adira. “He’s just a puppet, but this is what we do. We win elections all around the world in exchange for favourable trading conditions, we have done so for decades. I don’t know what you’re worried about Winter. I don’t know what you’re even doing here, an email from your office would have sufficed.”
Winter looked evenly back at Adira, “I wanted to impress upon you the gravity of the situation, remind you of the considerable benefits you have attained as a result of my organisation being in power, and remind you of what you could lose.”
“Fucking politicians,” muttered Adira shaking her head. “Just remember your place boy, you, and your idiot boss work for us, we are the ones pulling the strings. Of course, we will make sure the fool you work for gets another four years but only because it suits us. We could just as easily support the limp wristed bunch of lefties in opposition if the price was right.”
“Fixing elections is easy; people have been doing it for decades. Did you know, a long time ago in Poland, voters in opposition areas were given pens filled with disappearing ink. When officials went to count the ballots, they just found a bunch of blanks,” laughed Wei.
“This is all insignificant,” said Xander. “Trivial concerns. Governments will come and go. We are the ones with real power. We should be planning for our future, harnessing this technology at our fingertips. Once everyone has my aug installed,” Xander clumsily detached the aug and held it up to show them. “We can upgrade it without them knowing, we can input images and information directly into their heads. We won’t need data harvesting hardware, we can tell them what to buy, we can tell them what to think.”
Ava stood up from her position next to the pool. She had been staring through the waters at the distorted view of the desert floor below while listening to this conversation. Their words made her stomach churn, she knew what these people had done and what they intended to do, but actually hearing it was sickening. She wondered how it would look if she vomited on the floor. She padded to where Xander was standing and examined the point behind his ear where he had removed the aug. There was a narrow jack point with silver conductors just below the hairline, it looked red and raw around the edges. She winced as Xander fumbled with his aug, trying to force it back into the socket in his head before he bent down and hoovered up another line of cocaine.
“We are at a certain level now, and that level is profitable for all of us. But to get to where the real power and money is, to plan for the future, we have to talk to him,” said Clifford.
There was silence in the room as they contemplated this. She stood amongst them, a quizzical look on her invisible face. Clifford sighed and peeled another grape.
“Fuck it,” said Xander and had another line. No one seemed in a hurry to say anything. “I suppose we will eventually have to start thinking about a way out. He’s got that elevator now, as long as there’s somewhere to go.”
“We have a few decades left before the planet completely shits itself. There’s a lot more money to be made in the meantime,” said Wei.
“Yes, but it’s getting harder to hide our wealth and the population might eventually wake up to the fact they have been ripped off for generations. Probably around the same time the planet becomes unliveable. I don’t want to be stuck in a doomsday bunker in North Dakota when the apocalypse happens. As much as I hate the idea, we should try to work closer with him. Personally, I can’t tolerate the man. He’s so egotistical,” said Clifford.
“He owns the media, the manufacturers, the shipping companies. He owns the governments and now he thinks he owns space. You don’t get anything done without his endorsement,” said Wei. “Adira, you know him better than any of us, can you set up a meeting with Lago?”
Ava immediately stiffened and stepped back. The mention of this name bought back painful memories. Her hand went to the healed scar on her abdomen. She stared at them all, gauging their reactions before her face hardened and she unclipped the bomb from a pouch on her belt.
“What do I say?” asked Adira. “What could Lago possibly want from us?”
“We can offer him my aug tech,” said Xander. “And take it from there. We want safe haven up there on his asteroid. With all our resources, our influence, and expertise, we could forge a mutually beneficial partnership.”
It was nauseating. It had been interesting to eavesdrop but that was all Ava needed to hear. She knew these people were corrupt. She knew of their alliance to monopolize the data trading market and she was not surprised to learn of their involvement in fixing elections. But the fact they had manufactured a deadly virus and unleashed it on the public for profit was worse than despicable. These people were truly vile. Where their hearts should be, lay an addiction to money and a cold white disdain for anything other than profit.
She went and stood by the reception area and with a touch became visible again. Clifford was the first to notice a slim female clad in a skin-tight black suit appear from nowhere. He looked puzzled for a moment before almost choking on his grape when he saw what she was doing. “Security!” he shouted.
Ava lobbed the bomb into the middle of the group and smiled at their horrified faces as she vanished in front of them. She watched the ensuing mayhem for a second before slipping out as the security guard entered the Blue Diamond room to a scene of screaming, smoking, chaos.
About the Creator
Hi. I live in Auckland, New Zealand. I work outdoors doing environmental restoration. My work was initially my inspiration for writing until it turned into this out-of-control monster.
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