The State by Tom Wright - Read Online
The State
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Summary

The State is the complete collection of all three books in the trilogy, action-packed sci-fi dystopian novellas.

The resistance fights the state on every hand, trying to gain a foothold against their military might.

Kara, a young soldier, reunites with Matt, her childhood friend. For several years, he’s been indoctrinated by the state. Kara must work to turn him back while fighting to stop the force that captured him so long ago.

Orem, the leader of the resistance, seeks to atone for his past by saving the future. But the more he tries to avoid violence, the more deaths pile up. He and Kara race against time to bring peace to the warring factions before it's too late.

Published: Tom Wright on
ISBN: 9781507033777
List price: $3.99
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The State - Tom Wright

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Chapter 1

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Taylor swallowed, staring longingly at the water fountain on the wall. Can I finish the mission before it sets in? She shook her head. Not worth figuring out. But where do the Academics get their water?

She straightened, trying to look the part of a Lapaz-drugged worker. Her utilitarian beige uniform made her fit in with the rest of the drones running the neo-engine factory. She shuffled amongst the drones while they went about completing mundane tasks, in their Lapaz-forced obedience.

Taylor tried to keep her face blank, not showing her fear, or her thirst. Her water supply had run out two days before, while she watched the Academics rotate through their guard. Uncertainty kept her pinned in her hiding place in the stairwell, but she figured out the guards’ schedule now. She considered following a woman as she left her guard post, and taking her water, but the risk was not warranted. If a guard’s body was found, the Academics would go on alert, and Taylor’s mission would fail.

The multi-story building in San Marcos was just one of dozens left behind from the old world. Taylor was amazed that the electricity and water still worked, despite an obvious lack of maintenance. The tiled floor of the lobby was chipped and broken in several places, and the glass panes of the revolving front door were covered in spidery cracks. Despite the damage sustained during the gas crises and the neo-engine war, the factory was clean and free from debris. Janitorial drones, identified by their faded blue coveralls, swept and mopped, or washed windows. Taylor heard them vacuuming every now and then. She had a blue jumpsuit stashed in her bag if she needed to impersonate one of the cleaning crew.

The State kept the complement of guards at this factory to a minimum. Smart, she thought. It had taken several months for the resistance to figure out the location. Would’ve been a lot easier if we had more people to follow in and out. The State must keep other factories close by, because it was difficult to power remote locations. The resistance could bring down power lines or disrupt water flow far too easily for the State to work outside the grid. Eliminating this factory would cause a serious shortage of neo-engines, maybe enough to turn the tide to the resistance for a while. If the State couldn’t power their copters, tanks, or trucks, the resistance could quickly gain the upper hand.

Taylor realized she was walking too quickly as she passed a drone. She slowed down, pacing herself next to the drone. Fitting in was easy enough, walking with an aloof air, moving at a slow but steady shuffle. Complacency could get her killed. She suppressed a grim smile. Getting killed is the least of my concerns, she thought. Getting killed before mission-complete, that’s the thing that scares me.

She tried to take her mind off her thirst. Passing another water fountain did not help. She thought back to the day she felt a lump in her stomach. Anger and bitterness crashed into her that day, when the HQ nurse told her that cancer swept through her body, already spread too far for removal. Taylor lashed out at the nurse, asking if he had anything more than a few years training with a first aid kit. She apologized after, but still felt guilty. The cancer wasn’t anyone’s fault, not even hers. She had lived as healthy as anyone could while constantly on the run. That she had made it so long without taking a bullet, or worse, taking Lapaz again, was a miracle. A miracle she did not understand, but would use as best as she could.

A few more months. Painful months. I always felt sorry for the ones sent out, knowing they would not come back. Even though she was ready for the mission a few weeks ago, she waited for several days until Orem showed up. Orem saw every suicide mission off, no exceptions. He spent the day with her, asking her questions, writing down her answers. You’re a hero, he said. We need to remember all of the heroes. We’ll need your strength even after you’re gone.

She remembered that conversation well. She had blushed at Orem’s attention. I’m not a hero. I’m dying anyway.

Have you fought the State this whole time because you’re already dying?

She shook her head. He spoke again. Why do you fight?

I have to. Someone has to stop them. I can’t let them keep hurting people like… Her voice trailed off.

Like they hurt you?

She nodded. He took her hand, holding it in both of his. No matter the circumstances, this is the bravest thing you’ve ever been asked to do.

Taylor focused on the mission again. She glanced at the worker next to her, then stepped behind him as they came to a security door separating her in the lobby from a hallway on the other side. Her hand shook as she bent to show her ID to the scanner, mimicking the motions of the drone ahead. She sucked in her stomach, trying to keep the gun strapped to her abdomen from showing. She nearly winced as the hard lumps in her stomach flared painfully against her taut muscles, pushing into the gun. The Academic standing on the other side of the glass did not give her a second look. Taylor kept her eyes forward, pressing her hand to her side to keep her nerves from showing.

The worker walked with agonizing slowness, but Taylor kept exactly behind him, wondering if the Academic was looking at her now. She waited until both she and the worker turned the corner, then pressed her hands to her stomach, massaging gently. Waves of pain radiated out of her, and she bit her lip to keep from gasping. The Academic down the hall probably would not hear her, but she didn’t want to take the chance. Her throat burned, and she walked briskly to catch up to the drone, still trying to ignore her thirst.

After the first Academic at the security door, she didn’t encounter any other soldiers. Could be a bad thing, she thought. Means there’s nothing here that they care about. The resistance intel only knew the location of the factory, not the floor-plan. She had to make do with what she could figure out on her own. As she walked, still following the worker in case anyone saw her, she peered into empty offices spaced out along the hall. Each held a desk and chair, facing away from the window. A few had computers, but most were empty but for the simple furniture. Why was this guarded? And where are we going?

They reached the end of the hall, where the last office on the right stood with the door open. Okay, time to backtrack. She turned, but a voice caught her attention as it barked out the open doorway.

Take this to the third floor, office 303.

Taylor stopped herself from swearing out loud. An older woman in an Academy dress uniform stepped out of the office. The heavy green pants were the same that their soldiers used in the field, but her top was a starched brown button-down instead of the field soldier t-shirt. She held a manila folder out to the worker in front of her. Taylor kept her face devoid of emotion, although her mind raced. Is anyone else in the office? No time to find out.

The woman reached for her radio as she asked, Why did they send two of-

Taylor surged toward the Academic, who raised her black plastic radio in a hasty block. The element of surprise gave Taylor the advantage. She rammed her fist into the woman’s nose, then slammed the flat of her hand into the woman’s chin, cutting off the cry of pain. The radio thumped to the floor, the impact muffled by the carpet. The Academic slumped against the wall, her eyes streaming involuntary tears as her hands tried to staunch the blood from her nose.

Hurry, hurry, get inside the blasted office, Taylor willed herself as she dragged the limp Academic.

Unhh, the woman groaned.

Taylor landed a savage kick to the Academic’s head. Her sneaker wasn’t the best weapon, and it took another kick before the Academic stopped struggling. The fluorescent lights cast a pallor over the drab blue carpet, which was now splattered with a constellation of blood. Taylor grimaced, pausing to check the Academic’s pulse. It was too feeble for the woman to recover. Just as well, she thought. If I succeed, this gore will all be trivial.

Taylor went to the hallway to retrieve the radio. She watched the worker walk away at his normal stride, manila folder in hand, methodically plodding through the day. Drugged men tell no tales, she thought. Back in the office, she adjusted the volume of the radio. A hiss came through, indicating that it worked. Didn’t have time to trigger an alarm. She shut the office door, listening to the quiet click of the lock. She knelt down to grab the Academic’s ID, but stopped when she noticed it only authorized first floor clearance.

Taylor searched the room, immediately checking a small refrigerator in the corner. Plastic water bottles lined the shelves and door. Sagging with relief, she knelt in front of the open fridge, cold air wafting past her as she took disciplined sips. Everyone in the resistance was trained to know the sickly sweet taste of Lapaz. The taste always reminded her of children’s medicine, the sweet flavor masking a noxious flavor underneath. That flavor was the first thing they learned, if they did not already know it. Unfortunately, she knew the taste all too well from most of her childhood. She still remembered her instructor barking the order at her.

Drink it!

She shook her head, trying to keep from crying. All the other trainees had already taken their Lapaz in small doses, familiarizing themselves with the taste so they knew to avoid it.

You will wash out of here right now unless you get that down your throat! The instructor’s voice boomed through her skull, but she kept her lips clamped firmly shut.

Fine. You’re done. Get out of here. He turned to address the others. Class, anyone not willing to take a few risks will never make it in the field.

Her eyes brimmed with tears. She swallowed, a hardness in her throat making it difficult. She looked up as Orem walked slowly into the room. Not her. She knows the taste of Lapaz better than any of us. The instructor frowned, but nodded, letting Taylor stay with the class.

Her mind emptied now as she swilled the water through her teeth, drinking in the purity. Before she knew it, the bottle ran empty, and she started to chug another. She stopped herself halfway through, reverting to careful sips. Ingesting Lapaz wasn’t the only danger. Dehydration often caused nausea, and she didn’t want to throw up from taking too much water in too fast. She felt light-headed, but kept taking the water in sips, pausing between them. Well, the damage might be done after this one, she thought, ruefully looking at the first empty bottle.

She felt more lucid than she had the last two days. The woman on the ground twitched, but otherwise stayed where she lay. Taylor peered out the office doorway down the hall, still listening to the radio. No one came to check up on the fallen woman. Will she be missed? How long until they start looking for her?

With a little water in her, she could think clearly. She studied the utilitarian office, the only furniture a desk holding two large monitors, a chair, and the fridge. A window showed the outside, the sun adding to the light in the room. I got more turned around than I thought. I shouldn’t be on an outside-facing wall. Taylor pulled the blinds to keep anyone outside from seeing her.

She rounded the desk, sitting at the keyboard, setting the radio down next to her. The left screen showed a report, probably what the Academic just printed and handed off for delivery. Why print something off when… She opened up a browser to confirm. Internet’s out. Are they stretched so thin that they can’t fix it every time we bring it down?

Taylor clicked through several icons until the e-mail client showed on the screen. Scrolling through, she noted several e-mail chains from various addresses. Huh, she said, talking to herself. Her voice croaked after two days without water or use. She squinted at the screen, puzzled. Just went out. Orem’s teams must be working overtime.

She pushed that distraction out of her mind, instead working on how to get to the completed neo-engines. She gave a cursory search for a layout of the factory, but did not find anything of use. It was worth a shot. She looked through all the open windows, clicking quickly through more reports. With a sigh, she pushed the chair back, pondering for a moment.

The radio chirped quietly, startling her. She reached for it, but stopped herself. Was it just a…? It beeped again, and she looked down at it, trepidation building in her stomach. She pulled the chair back in, hands flying across the keyboard as she searched the phrase radio codes. The radio beeped a third time, and Taylor gave up on the computer and grabbed the radio again, pressing the transmit button twice. Here’s to hoping they haven’t changed the codes since-

A shrill alarm pierced the air. Tiny but bright lights flashed, causing her to see spots when she looked away. Fire alarm? Or is it a general alarm? She cursed, getting up from the computer and tucking the radio to her belt. She got to the door before she remembered to turn the radio down. Its static hiss would barely be audible in the best conditions, and the alarm drowned it out completely. Better safe than sorry, she thought.

The hallway remained deserted but for her. She ran to the corner, then kept her breathing natural as she turned to walk through the security door. The Academic that let her through previously now stood tense, holding his machine gun in front of him. She remained at the slow gait of a drone, breathing evenly. She passed under a fire alarm and nearly winced at the pain to her ears, but kept her face neutral. That was apparently enough for the guard, who watched her approach the door. She nearly bent to show her ID to the scanner when the guard’s radio blared, a deep voice calling out a coded signal.

The Academic dropped his gun, the strap keeping it hanging at his hip. Worker. Come here.

Taylor nearly grimaced, but kept her face blank as she turned and walked toward the guard, the radio’s weight heavy at her hip. Don’t look at the radio. Don’t look at the radio. Don’t look at the radio.

He looked at her side, the black radio in dark contrast to her beige uniform. He narrowed his eyes, asking, Why do you h-

She threw herself at him as he brought his rifle up. She knocked the gun aside with one hand, while smoothly grabbing her radio and slamming it into his head with the other. The casing popped open from the blow, exposing wires beneath. The Academic crumpled to the floor, his gun partially underneath him. Taylor rolled him over and unstrapped the gun. Sharp jabs of pain tore through her cancer-ridden abdomen from the exertion of the fight. At least he went down easier than the woman, she thought. Can’t afford a long fight right now.

Orem’s words echoed through her mind: Do your best to avoid attention. Just get in and blow the first neo-engine you see. She ripped the Academic’s ID from the front of his uniform to show the scanner.

The door slid open, and she darted through it, holding the gun ready as she sprinted to the stairwell. It was her hiding place of the last two days; even the drones used the elevators. She closed the door and leaned against it, gasping for air, feeling the water slosh around her stomach. The gun jostled during her run, and she adjusted it while waves of pain coursed through her. Definitely won’t miss that.

She took the stairs upward at a measured pace. Taylor nearly unstrapped the gun from her abdomen, but just grimaced through the pain instead, gritting her teeth as she climbed past the third floor. Shouldn’t be anything here but offices, she thought, remembering the Academic’s words to the drone. She tried to push the drone out of her mind, but she could not stop picturing his empty face. He and several hundred other workers would die in the fallout, and the State would commission more births to offset the loss. Commission, she thought bitterly, moving a little faster despite the pain.

The word commission made people feel better about their choices, like neutralize and soft target. If she had to kill a million drones to stop the State, she would not give the drones a second thought. A little voice crept up in the back of her mind. That’s not true. You’d feel guilty for the rest of your life.

Orem’s words sounded through her mind: Truth is the best defense, and the best offense. She kept climbing to the sixth floor, where the doors needed a security ID to get through. She let the truth hit her like the force of a hurricane, no longer trying to hold it back. The drones here don’t have a choice. Killing them all is as wrong as the State’s enslavement. But, I can save thousands of lives. Any effort to stop the State saves lives.

Her guilt didn’t lessen, but her resolve strengthened. She approached the sixth floor door, looked longingly at her stolen rifle, and then set it aside with some reluctance. Probably shouldn’t have grabbed it in the first place, she thought. But leaving her enemy a weapon didn’t sit right with her. She glanced at it again, leaning against the wall behind the door, then used the Academic’s ID to open the door. She made sure to keep a neutral expression as she walked into the well-lit hall.

A few workers took plodding steps, heading in each direction of the hall. None of their faces showed any concern for the screeching alarms and bright lights. A quick glance showed Taylor that the area was free of Academics. She studied the IDs on the drones walking past. Each of them had the same security clearance as the Academic’s stolen ID, as well as factory-entrance clearance.

Definitely smart of them to disguise the factory as an office building. No wonder it took us so long to find a valid target. But how do they transport the neo-engines without us seeing?

She took an ID off of one of the woman drones walking toward an office near the stairs, pulling the card off by its clip from the woman’s front pocket. The drugged woman didn’t react in any way, but continued on mechanically. Hurried steps took Taylor to the end of the hall. She visualized what she knew of the factory’s layout as she approached the intersection, and guessed that a right turn would lead her to