Even if meant to be for good, new ideas will bring new crimes, new evil, new chaos. It is an inevitable part of life. An inevitable part of being man.
The day to day commotion of the city was made up of electronic sounds. No matter where one went, there would be the ringing of phones, the clicking of computers, and the bleeping of programs and applications on various other devices. It was an era of technology where the progress of businesses, markets and stocks could be accessed by everyone. Anyone could locate products, resources, and even trace people without the help of professional workers. This tracking could all be done simply with a cell phone, GPS, computer or laptop with great ease. This convenient technology quickly became popular and was known to citizens as the "ExLo System", or just "ExLo", shortened from "Expedient Locating System".
It was late afternoon when Aro Grey wandered amidst the turmoil of noise. The young man was heading to the same place that he always went to whenever he had nothing else to do or nowhere else to be. As he walked, he eyed his surroundings with disapproval, discontent with the enormous number of people that have come to rely on machines instead of their own hands. If only they tried putting a little more effort into their lives, they could do just as much as those intelligent melded hunks of metal and plastic did for them every single day, and they would even experience a greater sense of satisfaction as a bonus. At least, that's what Aro believed.
That's right; Aro was probably the only person in the city who despised not only ExLo, but much of technology itself as well.
Aro entered White Quarter, a small diner situated on a corner street in a quieter part of the city. The bells on the door tinkled as he pulled it open. Instead of sitting down at a table, he walked past the counter and acknowledged the employee there before heading to the back of the building. He descended a small set of stairs to a door. He stood before the entrance and stared reluctantly at the keypad next to the door. With much effort, he lifted his hand and quickly punched in a few keys. He waited, listening to the tedious shifting and clicking of the weighty bolts and locks as they slid aside. With one last 'clunk', the hefty door was unlocked and Aro entered. The room beyond was surprisingly larger than one would expect. It was certainly more spacious than the restaurant above. The interior looked much like an office, complete with work desks, computers and screens. One corner had a large table surrounded by chairs like a conference room, and another section of the room was a lounging area, comfortable with couches and coffee tables.
There were a few people in the chamber even though there was no meeting today. Like Aro, there were some who liked to spend their time here; most would help out the owner with a variety of chores. Had Aro not needed to run an errand for the owner of the diner today, he would still have come down here to read. Despite his dislike for being near computers, it was still better here than above ground in the city, where the streets and buildings were overrun with people who had more affection for inanimate entities than their own species.
Aro took out a book from his bag and sat down on a couch but before he was even able finish his second sentence, he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see a tall, built man standing behind him. The man was wearing sunglasses and had an unlit cigar held in his unshaved jaws. Aro closed his book and stood up to face the owner.
"You're late," Aro said.
"Sorry about that," laughed the man. "There were a few things I had to take care of before I could come down." He took out a lighter and lit his cigar, taking several deep puffs.
The owner did not fit the image that the typical owner of a diner might have. With a thick straggly beard and balded head, he had a less than friendly appearance; his large stature a feature that only added to the intimidating aura he seemed to exert. Although his exterior was slightly frightening, he had a love for cooking and to someone like Aro who had known him since he was young, he was a kind person.
"So," inquired the younger man. "What was the errand you needed me to help you with?"
"Ah, quick to business as always, I see." The owner walked over to a heavy looking vault nestled in the corner of the room. Sliding open a small metal cover, he inputted a password into the keypad, which opened a second tiny door above the first. The owner placed his thumb on the revealed panel, and after a final retinal scan as a third security measure, a loud 'clunk' finally sounded as the vault unlocked. During this whole procedure, Aro had let his eyes wander the room. Keeping his gaze away from the vault and the computers didn't really make him deaf to the sounds he heard, nor did it help the tide of nausea rising from his stomach to his throat. Still, it was probably better than outright retching, which was what might have happened had he let his mind focus on the owner's mechanical interactions. He took a chance and shot a quick glance in the owner's direction. The owner reached into the depths of the safe and pulled out a small object that looked like a box no bigger than a ring case. He shut the vault again and moved over to one of the many desks, then bent over to write something. He returned to Aro with the box and a small square sheet of paper in his hands.
"Take this part to the address that's written here, would you? Give it to a man named William Broker. He'll give you further instructions after you hand it over to him."
Aro swallowed, forcing down the sick feeling before reaching out and taking the address from him. "Seems like a job anybody could do, why me?"
"Come now, lad," said Brody as he came to join the two. "The owner jus' wants t' give you somethin' to do before yer bored out o' yer wits."
Brody Walker was a fiftyish year old man who worked as the manager of White Quarter and was a good friend of the owner. Missing a little more than just a tooth and words with a slight lisp, his ragged appearance didn't prevent him from getting along with the younger people he had a soft spot for. Aro personally wished he would stop treating him like a boy though. He wasn't a kid anymore after all.
"After all," he continued, "ya always refuse t' help with anythin' on the computers. We even hadda force ya t' carry a cell phone around. Really, I don't see why ya hate it so much. I mean sure, every'ne in White Quarter feels th' same about what th' Black Shield is doin', but don'chu think yer goin' a bit overboard with yer loathing fer everythin'?"
Aro narrowed his eyes.
"Don't mind him, Aro," intervened the owner. "You know Brody, he's just trying to lighten you up a bit. But here's the bottom line: I trust you, Aro, that's why I'm asking you."
Though he was listening, Aro's reply seemed to disregard the owner's words. "There are lots of things in life I can accept, but technology is one thing I will never forgive. Don't try to convince me otherwise." he said before leaving the two older men in the chamber with the cold and empty echo that was created by the shutting of the heavy door.
"He's still the same as ever, ain't he?" commented Brody. "Still has that aversion for tech' 'nd electronics and whatnot. As one 'f the younger members here it's surprisin' fer someb'dy his age t' hate tech'."
The owner blew out a smoke ring. "Can't be helped, I guess. Ever since that incident fifteen years back…"
"Th' boy was only twelve, ain't he?" Brody responded. "When tha' nightmare of an event occurred."
The owner looked at the entrance where the younger man had disappeared through only seconds ago.
"After the development of the ExLo System, life, without a doubt, became easier for much of the population. I suppose the drawback is that the abilities of ExLo aren't limited to helping mankind. It brought many unfortunate events too. I remember when betting on the stocks and resources as a form of gambling became a real hot topic for a huge number of people." He shook his head as Brody clucked his tongue. "How I wish it were, but it wasn't simply a serious case of buying options in normal investments; more like the entire stock market just turned into an online casino overnight. Several men and women were obsessed and would just stare at their cell phone or computer twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It was almost as though their bewitched souls had been swallowed by the devices or something, leaving their bodies hollow…empty." He shuddered, shaking off the haunted sensation that surfaced with the memories. "Then fifteen years ago the system suddenly crashed and wasn't fixed until two months later. During those two short months, the gamblers all fell into despair."
"'nd they all committed suicide." Brody concluded.
"I'd never seen so much chaos stirred up in such a short time."
"'Was definitely a horrifyin' time."
"Indeed," agreed the owner. "Aro, he must have been shocked when he was told his parents had died. It's no wonder he would come to hate ExLo so much."
Aro was reluctant to walk back into that mess of a city. Even as he stepped out of White Quarter, his acute hearing could already pick up the whirring of machines from far away. He really hated those noises. They gave him headaches and he felt sick to the stomach whenever he was out in the city. The pain was like someone playing his nerves as though they were strings on a cello; fibres pulled taut, noise sawing away disgustedly like a bow handled by a malevolent sprite residing in his mind. At first he could not understand how everyone could wear smiles on their faces with their hands on such devilish devices. It occurred to him a while back though; it was because those smiles weren't genuine. They were fake.
He slowly trudged deeper into town, studying the address and determined to get there with his own knowledge of the city's labyrinthine infrastructure. Since he found the hanging bodies of his parents in their apartment he had talked himself into believing that no matter what kind, technology would only bring misfortune and the downfall of humanity. Subsequently, he refused to even touch anything mechanical, convinced that the evil it possessed might suck him into its depths as well. However, these memories got him wondering why he had agreed to take part in the plan of the White Wolves. He looked down at the paper in his hand and began to think back to when all this started.
Aro Grey was in his late teenage years when the Black Shield appeared and the White Wolves was formed. The Black Shield was an organization that wanted to take the workings of ExLo further. After the creation of the ExLo System, despite all its useful properties, it could cause great disturbance in society when put to certain uses. Skilled hackers were quickly able to twist the usage of ExLo and use private information connected to the System for their own selfish benefits. Robbers could easily break into a bank's secured data and steal money with no trouble. Others could take information from companies and manipulate their businesses with ease. In order to catch these slippery criminals, the Black Shield recently developed a branching function for ExLo; a way to locate people and uncover their identities no matter where they may be. Detailed personal information of the individual could be obtained easily with a phone number, name, or even a fragment of DNA like a single strand of hair. Any piece of information on that individual, regardless of how superficially insignificant, could prove to be the most betraying and lead to the complete revelation of that person's whereabouts, doings, and secrets. If other people got a hold of this program, there was no saying what they might do for their own crazy purposes. It could very well increase the amount of crime going on instead of reducing the growing number of criminals.
Aro was a member of the White Wolves, a different group assembled to work against the ways of the Black Shield. The White Wolves consisted of people who shared same views on how ExLo should not be used. Their leader was the owner of White Quarter, and the little diner was used as their headquarters. It was the best place for them to meet since it was not very well known and was in a quieter part of town. Not very many people would be coming and going, keeping their base of operations hidden from the Black Shield. The names of both groups reflected their motives and views. It was unknown whether or not the Black Shield could see the problem with their ways, but they justified their actions with the Shield. It supposedly symbolized their aim to bring "justice" back to the System. The wolf of the White Wolves symbolized how individuality and working as a group was enough to survive; things like technology weren't a necessity in life.
As ExLo was slowly being improved, even the White Wolves were in danger of being traced back to their headquarters. In order to prevent that from happening, all the members of the White Wolves provided the world with fake identification. Aro was no exception. Anything known of his identity was not real. Aro Grey was not his real name, and neither was Brody Walker's. The public knew nothing about Aro's real age, birthday, address, or anything else about his background. He, along with everyone else in the White Wolves, was a secret from the world.
The two organizations had been at war with each other underground for ten years now. Just a few months ago during a meeting, the White Wolves had finally come up with a solution to put an end to the Black Shield and their methods. And the plan involved a computer. Aro still did not know why he was so eager to help when technology was involved. It was most likely due to the fact that he knew what the outcome of the scheme would be.
Before he knew it, Aro had reached his destination. He took the steps up to the door and rang the doorbell. A man appearing to be in his forties answered the door and spoke past the chain that kept the door not four inches from the frame.
Aro said nothing, but reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out the little box, handing it and the paper address through the gap to the party on the other side.
William Broker looked from Aro to the items being handed to him and then back to Aro before he harrumphed. "Grey, was it? Heard your name from the owner. Not much of a talker, are you? No manners either." Receiving no reply again, he snatched away the box. "Come back in two weeks for the finished product." After a pause the technician muttered, "Give my regards to the owner." before shutting the still-chained door in Aro's face.
The days rolled by sluggishly, and by the time it was time for the White Wolves to launch their strategy, Aro felt like he had suffered the wrath of city life for more than an eternity. One week ago, the organization held a meeting to decide who was going to carry the task of activating their strategy. Surprising even himself, Aro had volunteered. Now, before heading out, he was greeted by the owner and given a final rundown of the plan.
"Feeling all right, Aro? We've gone over this already but all you've got to do is take the finished program to the ExCore and put it in. That supercomputer is the source of all technology in the city. Once you put in Will's program, everything will be over. Now remember, even if you run into anyone from the Black Shield, you are to head straight to the core at the centre of the city no matter what. The program is first priority."
Aro's voice was oddly vicious when he replied. "You don't need to tell me; I'm going to end this personally."
The owner gave him a grave smile.
"Thought you might say that. Now get going; we're all celebrating after our sure victory!"
Aro slipped through the alleys and side streets to get to William Broker's house to pick up the program. Arriving quickly on the doorstep, he rang the doorbell, twice when the first rang unanswered. Irritated and impatient, Aro knocked hard on the door and it to creaked open by itself, chainless. A little surprised, Aro cautiously pushed through, increasing the gap just enough for his body to slide through as though opening it any wider would cause an alarm to go off, labelling him an intruder to the house owner. However, no alarm sounded and no grouchy man came to tell him off for entering uninvited. He took a glance back at the door and noticed with calm unease that the door chain had been sawed into two, half hanging from the door and half hanging from the wall beside it.
He proceeded further into the house, venturing into the basement as that was where a trail of tracked dirt led him. The sight that met him was something expected. There, top half of his body lying across a wooden work desk, was William Broker. Eyes open and glazed with pain, a hand clutched at his heart. Aro could see a bloodstain on his back; the man was probably shot through the chest and left to bleed to death if he hadn't died instantly. Though no longer in the building, this was definitely the doing of the Black Shield, yet seeing the corpse and the traces of his enemy's presence imbued in Aro no fear.
Noticing that William Broker only had one hand at his chest, Aro discovered his other hand on the handle of a locked desk drawer. It was just a hunch, but Aro guessed that the program was inside that drawer. Searching around the house for something he could open the drawer with—he wasn't going waste time looking for the key—he found a toolbox and took from it a crowbar. Returning to the desk, he removed the dead man's hand and pried open the drawer, splintering wood in the process. His hunch was correct, for there was the program: a floppy disk that embodied the future of humanity.
Aro gripped the program tightly beneath his jacket as he ran to the heart of the city. His heart was pumping hard and he felt adrenaline flowing through his veins. He was excited. He had not felt such strong emotion in his entire life. This was his chance to finish everything with his own hands. He was so caught up in the sensation that he didn't hear the painful noises of the city anymore. He couldn't even care about having to be near a supercomputer later, or the fact that he was going to use technology when he vowed fifteen years ago that he would never again.
Having arrived at the centre of the city he raced up the stairs to the top of the tower where the ExCore was located. He didn't stop to catch his breath before slipping the disk out of his jacket. He recalled the instructions that were given to him on how to get the program to work. His eyes searched the circular computerized room for the drive to put the floppy into. Spotting it, he walked over and slid the disk into the slot. A high pitched beeping—now music to his ears—indicated the activation of the program, and for the first time since he could remember, he felt relief and a smile twitched at the corners of his lips.
"Well well, what do we have here?"
Aro spun around to face the unexpected guest. No, it wasn't just one. There were four men dressed in black. Could they be?
"You're Aro Grey from the White Wolves, aren't you? How wonderful to meet you. I'm James Sheldon, commanding officer of the Black Shield. What might you be doing here? Not that I need to ask since I already know."
"Then I don't need to answer you, do I?" Aro said as his face darkened.
Anger crept into James Sheldon's expression. "Don't mock me, what can you do with a supercomputer? Only professionals know how to use such complexity." After a short moment, the man smirked. "Should I tell you a little secret regarding your comrades?"
"What are you talking about?" demanded Aro.
"Hah!" laughed the leader of the Black Shield. "They won't be coming to save you, you know. They're DEAD. My men have long since found your silly little hideout and all the White Wolves. They've been KILLED. We shot them through their heads before they could even lift a pinky. Now you're the only one left; it's too late for you to do anything, Aro."
Aro knew he wasn't lying, and yet he was barely shaken by the news. He had somehow felt all along that something like this would happen even before he set out on this task. It didn't make his heart waver at all.
"No, the one who is too late is you." A twisted grin extended across the young man's face.
"The virus is running; there's no way to stop it now. All technology in this city will shut down. Everything will be lost."
"Impossible, you mean you actually—!" James Sheldon ran out the door and down the stairs outside, followed by his men.
Aro chased after them giddily, eager to hear what the city sounded like now. Even before he reached the exit, he could hear it already. The screams and wails of sadness and despair erupted from the people of the city. Then Aro emerged from the building and a smile spread over his features. The scene before him was a magnificent painting, a work of art. The chaos was illuminated by the bloody red and orange mixture of the sunset that cast dark shadows everywhere. He looked on as men, women and children alike ran blindly through the streets, desperately hammering the keys of their gadgets trying to get them to work. In spite of the much more violent noise that pierced the sky now, Aro broke into hysterical laughter, delighted that he could no longer detect any traces of that painful, metallic sound of technology. Even those from the Black Shield were losing themselves. The leader ran up to Aro and grabbed him by the collar.
"What have you done?" he cried. "We're all going to die! Do something about that virus!"
"No!" yelled Aro. "You're already dead! Everyone's dead! You all died as soon as technology began!" Aro's eyes widened and his speech quickened, his voice growing higher in pitch. "You should have seen yourselves; you were all soulless and empty shells, seduced by those screens and lost in imaginary happiness and false smiles. They all looked the same, your faces. You were alive yet dead and you were dead yet alive. That's right, just like me!" He started choking on his laughs, out of control as he continued shouting. "Yes, we're all fakes, we're not real!" Aro gasped for breath as he finally slowed down.
In a low whisper and drowned out by the shrieks of people, he said, "Aro Grey never existed." before he seemed to fade away into the distant cries.
A/N: Hey guys, this was a re-write of the previous "ExLo" since it was something that I hadn't written very well. I thought I'd fix it up a bit so here you are. Hope you enjoyed, thanks for reading, and any reviews are appreciated.