The Wake-Up Call


Chapter 39: Witness

Hetch continued along the raised walkways as the stream of heavy transporter overloaded with waste materials swept below him. The thick concrete grey tentacles of paths, junctions and convoluted streets felt like he was walking through a spider web of de-humanised over population and social filth. All around were the trappings of exploitation and human suffering. People steered along chaotic road networks like cattle would have occupied Hetch's mind if it weren't for the fact that he wanted a small piece of this citizen bait, to have a tiny square of dull grey concrete amongst this termite's nest of soulless boxes. So what if he was just another mouse in a corporate maze competing with all the other rats for a single piece of cheese. That aspect human nature, the survival instinct, was his new driving force.

The constant scanning of his environment went unnoticed, either because nearly every other citizen was as paranoid as Hetch, or they simply didn't care. That great tool of governmental population control: apathy. He couldn't remember an entire week that went by without some new, experimental mind control technique being exposed by the news channel or viral outbreak affecting millions throughout the cities. The interaction between the chemicals in each everyday object was unknown simply because contamination occurred at every stage of production. Hetch remember the old historic vid casts that warned of genetic mutation caused by everything from pest control agents to toxic substances found in food colouring. Maybe it was time for humanity to have a wake-up call and see the real enemy, not the terrorist, the street gangs or crooked politicians but those in power with the ability to change but choose to accept kickbacks and use of violence to maintain control of each citizen. Greed was a powerful motive to exploit others.

The paranoid rambling from Splice was comforting to Hetch as he weaved a ragged course through the city along the back streets and heavy industrial areas filled with bio-hazard waste or failed mass produced food substances. Who knows how much of his words were true and how much was fuelled by conflicting chemical reactions from years of toxic drugs and new-age experimental treatments for brain disorders. Maybe, thought Hetch, it was better to simply go along with all the other termites and survive than to kick up dust and ask too many questions.

The hunger in his stomach was silenced by a batch of discarded food from a trash container inside the fence of the 'Glo-nosh' food production facility. The learnt tricks of street survival were ingrained in Hetch's brain that he could probably do it in his sleep. The trick was waiting for the right moment to avoid the guards and find an unopened container or two. The protein rich ingredients were good enough to satisfy his hunger for now. Pocketing a few smaller canisters he made his way beyond the fence and back towards the pedestrian zones.

A taxi pod caught his attention for a while until he found the path ahead choked with stationary people. There was an eerie silence surrounding the crowds. People aren't this quiet unless something is wrong he thought looking for an obstacle to climb onto and get a better view.

A few hundred metres ahead were troops holding back the lines of demonstrating citizens using shock batons and full riot gear. This looked different from the normal local rebellions. For a start the troops seemed to be holding back from the confrontation. Except for a few broken teeth and isolated beatings the demonstrators were being left alone. The crowds looked on with a cold look of detachment as if the demonstrators were from a different planet. And that fact that no news crews were around gave Hetch a greater sense of urgency to find another route.

He spotted good-looking dark haired women in the groups of demonstrators that reminded him of the stewardess. She had the same long hair and determined look on her face as she crossed her hands together to make a 'x' sign like a phoenix or a dove using both her thumbs pointing upwards to form the head with outstretched fingers for wings. Then he recognised the chants from them. It was the Nexus propaganda that he had seen on a few news vid casts.

"Don't exist, exit!"
"Freedom to live!"
"Corrupt corporation. Fight back now!"

The ideology of the Nexus is distorted by confused news events that attempted to portray them as radical freedom fighters or industrial terrorists. The rumours attributed countless bombings and sabotage attacks to the underground organisation network as well as many assassinations created a climate of fear and mystery around these individuals. In many ways they were perceived as a cult. But to Hetch seeing them here in the flesh broke the magic. They looked like yet another group of individuals trying to shout their way to a better life. Instead of the god-like individuals of legend, they looked ordinary like anyone else in the watching crowds of citizens. They all had the appearance of broken people, sad, even pathetic with no real power.

"Some crusading heroes!" thought Hetch cynically.

He held onto the side of the bridge structure and watched the girl continue to chant and cross her arms. Her movements transfixed him. For a brief moment he thought about the stewardess and the emergency drill when he first got on that shuttle when she demonstrated the emergency exits in case of another terrorist attack or major fault in one of the shuttle sub-systems. The troops grew still and everyone witnessed what happened next as if they all had read the same script.

The attractive girl seemed to look directly at Hetch and smiled before pulling two concealed black straps on her coat and detonating the explosives wrapped around her body. She vanished in a flash and the shockwave sent Hetch falling backwards onto the road behind the disbelieving crowds of onlookers. Hetch's head hit the tarmac as the explosives taped to the bodies of all the other Nexus demonstrators were triggered by the girl's explosion. Wave after wave of blood, body parts of clothing fragments radiated through the crowds. The troops and front rows of people took most of the impact as fire and panic broke out. The once silent audience were now participants in a horrorific terrorist attack screamed out in pain. People without limbs rolled around in agony on the ground while others ran blindly into the crowd while their clothes burnt out of control on fire. Others were trampled under foot as the remaining mobs ran in fear of their lives. Chaos pursued carnage. The hellish scene was a common scene on the news but this was real life. A news presenter and video caption would pre-warn viewers of the following graphic content, in this case there was none. Real life doesn't have a fixed runtime between commercials. The sights, screams and smells from the scene were unmistakable. People in the crowd collapsed in disbelief or vomited from the sudden violence on the senses.

Hetch was kicked and trampled on as the others ran over him. He brought his arms up too late and received a boot in the face. The chaos lasted a few minutes until he managed to crawl under a parked cargo truck. From between the large square tire tread pattern he watched the hysterical individuals return from stampeding animals back into something resembling human beings when they realised that the bombing had stopped. Pulling the used tickets from his pocket he wiped the blood from the back of his head and surveyed the volume of red covering the small print on the back of the shuttle tickets. It was another reminder of the accident on the fire escape when the stewardess fell from the broken ladder. He had blood on his hands and the used tickets wouldn't provide a means to clean his guilt.