The voice came as a distant whisper, a wave lightly washing over his senses, barely interrupting his slumber. Its effect faded quickly as Rei drifted back to sleep.
“Rei!” his brother Marc repeated, slightly louder this time.
Rei suddenly snapped to consciousness in response to the sound. “Hm?” he mumbled, shifting his head slightly toward Marc. “It’s late; let me sleep,” he muttered unintelligibly, lightly tapping on the glossy watch on his left wrist to check the time, its faint white glow dimly cast on his face. “It’s four in the morning.”
“Complain about the time later. The Exterminators are here. Sudine must’ve put out the order, and they’re legal now,” Marc retorted, a tinge of annoyance in his voice.
“What?” Rei exclaimed, sitting up immediately, any tiredness previously present in his demeanor completely vanishing. “For real? How close are they?”
“They’re somewhere in the city. Come on.”
Rei grabbed his long black coat and handed a dark green one to Marc. “Just in case they’re gonna try using those fancy sensors of theirs to detect something.”
Marc nodded and slipped on the heavy coat while Rei did the same. They’d had the coats for a while now, and they seemed to be useful in evading ultrasonic detection by the android-like hunters, based on past experiences. Whether or not they actually helped in this regard was unknown to the brothers; but the coats gave them a sense of security, a mental shield. Which was always useful in tense situations such as this.
“How’d you even learn about the Exterminators?” Rei whispered to his brother as they hurriedly stuffed their sleeping bags and other belongings into a large old black bag, and prepared to leave the old abandoned apartment they had resided in for the last three months.
That tracker app you managed to sync to them,” Marc answered as the two quickly paced down the flight of stairs.
“Heh, told you it’d work,” Rei chuckled. “How long do you think we’ve got?” he inquired after a moment of silence as they quietly snuck out of the front entrance of the building, wincing at the loud creak the door made as it turned on its hinges.
“They’re somewhere around Greener Gardens, a couple blocks away from here,” Marc whispered after pulling out his tablet to check the android-tracking software Rei had finished developing a few months earlier. We’ve gotta go southeast.”
“Okay,” Rei mumbled in response.
He looked around the dark alley the apartment was situated in, the scene slightly illuminated by the faint glow of moonlight.
“I don’t think anyone’s here,” he said quietly, pulling the hood of his coat over his head as he shifted his glance from the apartment’s surroundings to the tablet in Marc’s hands.
“Disconnect it,” he quickly hissed. “They can detect our location, you know.”
“I’ll disconnect it when we’re in their range. We need to know where they’re heading. Besides, Exterminators can’t neurally identify things that run on 8G from a range above a hundred meters; only stuff that uses their NET system.”
“If we can connect to their system, they can easily bypass the network difference as well,” Rei snapped, grabbing the tablet and shutting it down with a gesture on the screen in order to disconnect it. “Our tablet connection’s just the kind of thing they’d be searching for.”
He shoved the tablet into the black bag in his arms and slowly stepped forward. “Let’s head to Shorewood.”
“Yeah,” Marc murmured, pulling his hood over his head as well. They slipped out of the dark alley in silence and found themselves standing at the center of the old abandoned town. Rei and Marc quickly darted towards Shorewood, glancing backwards every once in a while to make sure that they were in the clear. After a period of tense silence, they had reached Shorewood: a dry wasteland.
The large dry patch of land littered with dead organic matter had once been a forest; abundant in lush greenery, wildlife, and pleasant waters. This was before the area had been destroyed by erratic weather and the repercussions of the war in the East; all a courtesy of humankind. Marc had some memories from his early childhood of Shorewood back when it was filled with life, having grown up near the area. Rei, being four years younger, remembered nothing of the old earth, which had collapsed in the early 2050s, a time period he had virtually no memory of.
Marc broke the silence, heaving out a large sigh as he settled down on the ground, his back rested against a form resembling an old withered tree stump.
Rei set the bag on the ground and plopped down next to Marc after getting a good view of the dark landscape. “Why do you think President Sudine legalized the Exterminators?” he asked. “They’re murderers; and the government’s never condoned them before.”
“Eh, Sudine’s always been obvious about the fact that he’s against people who don’t want to get their brains synced to the NET system and stuff. So the government can control people’s daily lives; what with the career mapping and thought inhibiting and all. And I guess he’s been rubbing off his opinions on the Representative LE. Representatives mostly just support the president, no matter how crazy they are,” Marc answered.
“Hm,” Rei mumbled. “Weren’t the Representative Legislators all against it before, though? Only forty-something out of two hundred actually supported making NET mandatory just last year; let alone straight-up legalizing killing people who refuse it,” he added. “I guess Sudine wanting to support the Exterminators makes sense, but the rest of the Western Alliance government body?”
“Like I said, whatever the president says goes, most of the time. Though no one likes to admit it, Representatives have been killed in the past for going against Sudine. They don’t really have much of a choice. The guy’s crazy, after all. The only reason he’s still in power is because of that coup he staged when Weston was supposed to replace him as President. Right when everybody was all freaked out about the nuclear war in the East. And nobody ever bothered to fix it, because he convinced them he’s good for the Western Alliance.”
“Yeah.” Rei sighed and paused for a moment. “So how long are we gonna be hiding out here? Aren’t the Exterminators eventually gonna come to Shorewood after searching the city?” he asked, already aware of the answer.
“Yeah, they probably are. I don’t think we’re going to ever manage settling down someplace, like we managed to stay at the apartment for a good couple of months,” Marc answered. “Especially now that Exterminating is legal.”
Rei nodded absently as he gazed toward the ground.
“You ever considered just becoming part of that NET system so you don’t have to spend your life running from terrorists?” he questioned after a while, brows furrowed, deep in thought.
“No, ‘course not,” replied Marc, a tinge of anger in his voice. “Once you become part of their NET system, you aren’t even really human. NET people are really just robots. They don’t feel nothing; they’re just people who’ve been ruined; whose human selves have been destroyed and replaced with mechanical junk that’s supposed to be better. Just look at the Exterminators, for instance. Everything that makes these people human is gone, just so they can ‘think faster’ and connect to the global NET system and make 'em easier to control and stuff. I’d rather live my life on the run than become part of that.”
“Yeah, I get that, but… they’re still people. They’re still real people, and it seems that those NET people in the system live better lives than us organic people who’re living on the run. Just because they’re made of tech and not the same organic material we are might not mean they aren’t still conscious, living people. Maybe NET isn’t all bad.”
The brothers sat in a heated silence for a while.
“They’re robots. Life doesn’t mean nothing to them. They’re not real people with real emotions and real thoughts; their brains’ve been tampered with too much for that,” Marc finished, with a tone that clearly stated that the discussion was over; no further argument was to be made. Rei respected this and kept his mouth shut, despite the fact that he had a couple more things to say.
During the silence, both pondered over the discussion.